Out of Denial: How I Found Life in the Bigger Story

coming out of denial

Two Men and a Gun

When I was twenty, I got mugged by two thugs in Boston.

I was walking home alone from a friend’s apartment when I noticed two guys approaching me on the dark sidewalk. One of them had a gun in his hand. Before I could think, they grabbed me and shoved me into an apartment building doorway, took my purse, then pulled me back down along the sidewalk.

I realized they were moving me toward the top of a stairway that led down into a dark passage between two buildings.

In shock, I began singing the 23rd Psalm. They called me nasty names and told me to shut up. Soon, we reached the top of the steps, but, before they could drag me down, I threw myself back on the concrete sidewalk and began to shake as if having a seizure.

“My medicine, my medicine, I need my medicine,” I cried, clinging to the stair rail as one of them smacked me in the head with the gun and the other yanked my feet toward the stairs.

Just then, a taxi cab came swinging by with its headlights sweeping. The two guys decided I wasn’t worth it, and they disappeared into the dark place to which they’d meant to drag me. Honestly, God gets all the credit, no question. I jumped up, pumped my fist in the air, and shouted, “We won!”

Now, where did that victory fist come from? Like the singing and the feigned seizure, the answer is a mystery to me. All I knew was that God had saved me!

In Denial

That’s the version of the story I have been telling for thirty years. However, my memory of that night is like the memory of a photograph rather than the memory of the event itself. Some details are missing, and there’s a sheen of unreality on the face of it.

When my old college friend Bob contacted me recently, I asked him his recollection of that time period. He happens to have an amazing memory, and he told me things I had forgotten about that night and about myself.

Here’s how the story should go:

When I was twenty, I was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint and came close to being raped and murdered. I had left a friend’s house in the heart of a dangerous city at 11 PM, refusing his pleas to let him walk me home. I told him, “God will take care of me.” How naive I was, full of pride and risking so much for nothing.

Certainly, the parts about singing, pretending to have a seizure, and then jumping up in victory when my attackers ran are true. They happened without forethought. And I believe God did save me.

Nevertheless, after the fact, I failed to face the weight of what actually had happened, could have happened.

In the following days, with my black eye and bloody chin and scalp, I did not–would not–absorb the impact. I held on to the parts of the story that suited me. A few weeks after the incident, as Bob reminded me, I began walking alone again at night.

Here’s the weirdest part: I forgot most of the second story’s details. I did not remember my refusals of help, my pride and stupidity, or the black eye. Also, Bob informed me about some of our friends who thought I must have been crazy before and after because of my behavior and attitude.

I was shocked by how little of myself I recognized. Truthfully, it was over 30 years ago, but there are some things you just don’t forget. And yet, I do. I did. A lot. It sounds like someone in denial.

Out of Denial

Did I know I was in denial?
Of course not! How can you know you’re in denial if you’re in denial?

What is it exactly?

According to one definition: Denial is a coping mechanism that gives you time to adjust to distressing situations — but staying in denial can interfere with … your ability to tackle challenges.*

The Mayo clinic online staff says: “If you’re in denial, you’re trying to protect yourself by refusing to accept the truth about something that’s happening in your life.” **

My definition is: “Bearing false witness against yourself; being unable or unwilling to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion.”

The shoe fit. I began to wear it.
Even so, how does one begin to come out of denial? How did I move in that direction?

Signs of Denial

Obviously, it’s taken me a long time to face facts about that attack in Boston and about myself as a young woman, to get a true picture of the person I was before I began to come out of denial.

As I look back again at what should have been a pivotal point in my life, I recognize some signs of my denial:

  • I didn’t want to burden others with my problems, wanted independence
  • I isolated myself, preferring aloneness to interaction
  • My isolation created in me a lack of perspective and outward objectivity
  • I thought I had to display a perfect, pure picture of myself to be a good Christian, not comprehending that my honesty and authentic brokenness would draw people to me and to God
  • The pedestal suited me because, at a distance, I could control people’s perceptions
  • I had a lot of answers and not enough questions
  • I had a secret, destructive habit which NO-ONE knew about

Defining Moments

My first step in facing the truth about myself was telling a secret which no-one knew:

When I was in my twenties, I had an eating disorder called bulimia. It was a destructive habit of bingeing and purging but I told myself it was my way of managing my weight. In fact, it was my way of managing emotions and memories too painful to let surface.

In retrospect, I wonder at how much of my story I kept stuffed inside, rarely sharing the hidden parts of myself. Fresh out of childhood, my feelings were trying to surface, but I didn’t have an escape hatch for them. This disorder kept me from dealing with the story of my past.

Then I met Scott, who later became my husband. He helped me take an honest look at my life and begin to tell my story. When I told him about my bingeing and purging, it was as though a tiny shaft of light broke into my cellar. My heart felt less heavy and I began to let the truth about my childhood come out. I began to let go of damaging emotions roiling around inside my gut.

We Write Our Own Medicine

Telling the truth has been an essential element in my spiritual and emotional health and recovery. Actually, it’s essential for physical and mental health, too. When my heart and mind were clogged, my body felt sick and looked for relief.

To keep the flow of freedom going, I began to write songs and stories. When I let my thoughts and feelings escape the jumbled places inside me, they’d untangle on the way out and take shape in creativity.

I also began to say out loud in safe places things I had never voiced. Over these many decades of my life, I have been part of recovery groups, prayer groups, and sharing groups. Counseling and all kinds of therapy have helped in my healing.

The Process

The hardest part of finding life for me has been the slowness of the pace.
The saying goes, “Don’t push the river,” but all I want to do is push.
Get with the program, River, and show me some results!
Problem is, the program is all about trusting the process, no matter how meandering and slow it feels.

Take my physical pain, for example. The list of methods I’ve used to relieve my chronic back, hip, shoulder, and neck pain is too long to share. My saying became, ”nothing works.”

Currently, I’m trying a new kind of yoga which is all about letting go. Instead of finding the balance between effort and surrender like my other yoga practices, this one is all about zero effort and 100% surrender.

Gravity does all the work as I lie on the floor breathing. And paying attention to how my muscles slowly let go of tension. While I do NOTHING. The poses are supposed to do the protracted work of releasing and easing the pain.

So far, I have noticed only a little bit of change. I’m tempted to go negative and declare that this process is not working. But those are old thought patterns.

Instead, I’ve decided to stick with it and trust that the long haul could be the ticket. This may take years of practice in letting go. I’m hoping for the best.

Three Tiers for Life!

What is life in the bigger story?

It’s like a puzzle. We admire the beauty of the cover on the box before we dump the contents and begin the sorting of the pieces. The pile of tiny, jumbled shapes is daunting, but we know there’s a big picture in there somewhere. We just have to begin with one connection, two pieces that make a perfect fit. From there, with diligence and patience, we begin to see small patches of the picture take shape.

Sometimes we swear the designer of this thing left out important pieces. Or someone has lost a few border pieces before us. Or we have dropped a few under the table without knowing, never to be recovered. And yet, we persevere, and the puzzle begins to make sense and emerge as a thing of beauty.

My “formula for finding life,” in a nutshell:

First, Come Out of Denial

You must look for signs of denial. Then you can begin to come out of that dank and dark cave.
Ask yourself: Are you, deep down, a wreck in some way?
In some hidden corner of your life, is there a bruised and broken part of you about to explode from the conflict?

What conflict?
The conflict between what should be and what actually is.
Is there a destructive habit or addiction in your life, even a damaging thought process, that keeps you from facing fears, feelings, or memories?

Here are a few helpful articles: 7 Signs ,  

Ask Yourself These Questions

Second, Tell Your Story

We are wonderfully made creatures. Our parts are all connected and meant to flow together freely. When we turn our insides out, we connect to others’ stories, which reminds us of the big picture, the thing bigger than us. The whole that is much more than the sum of its parts.

When you tell your truths, be as honest as you can. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I face the truth about this?” You will probably find that your answer is manageable. Then, do the next right thing to move in a healthy direction.

Here’s a related article I wrote:​ Get Out of Your Head and Into Health.​

I thought no one could handle all my deep secrets. My worst fear was to be abandoned.

But I found someone who could handle my reality.

As I began to share my hardest facts with Scott, some weight began to lift off of my chest. He heard my confession about the bingeing and purging, which I’d done since my senior year of high school, and he didn’t run for the nearest exit. He stayed and carried some of the weight and has been doing so for over 30 years.

Third, Trust the Process

There are many ways to process the pain and suffering of our lives.
You can find safe places, people, and programs that will help you on your journey.

As I came out of denial and started facing and telling the truth about myself, I looked around for more help. The resources I found included a community of friends who were telling their truths, too. I was part of formal and informal groups of women and men intentionally working on their life stories. One of these groups was a 12-step recovery meeting called Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). Here was a safe place to say hard things about myself and my life. We listened to one another without comment or judgment. We began to trust the slow process of healing and recovery.

Have compassion for yourself as you would with someone else you love.
Remember, Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to love others as you love yourself. This implies that YOU SHOULD LOVE YOURSELF.

If you do not love yourself, how will you be able to love others?
So grab the oxygen mask dangling in front of your face and breathe deeply! Let the life-giving flow do its work. Trust the process.

Those are my three essentials for finding life in the bigger story.

The beautiful scene on the front of the puzzle box reminds me that each annoying little piece really does connect somewhere and can somehow add to my life.

Therefore, I will keep sorting through the pile and finding parts that fit the bigger picture. I will keep sharing my thoughts and discoveries in my bigger story blog.
Thanks for reading, and happy journeying!

Christine

*h​ttps://www.cbsnews.com/news/10-signs-youre-in-denial/


** ​https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/denial/art-20047926

The Rock and The Hard Place: Finding A Way Out of Unsolvable Problems

When UP is Not an Option

There’s the rock and there’s the hard place. Then there’s me in the middle.

The sides of these impossible walls are smooth and sheer. They are close enough together to make me claustrophobic but far enough apart to keep me from shimmying up between them. Sure, I can look up but what good does that do? Clear freedom sky to taunt when up is not an option.

So I sit. And think. And whimper and simmer.

Years I’ve been here in this quandary. My few choices seem like no choice at all.

I have tried to kick against the rock and it bruises my toes.

I have turned to pound my fists on the hard place and it mocks my futile flesh.

Is there no way out?

My Rocky Place

Do you have those stuck places in your life? Ever feel like you’ve been dropped into a deep hole out of which neither God nor the universe is offering a hand?

Call it your quandary of (insert your monolithic predicament here). Describe your rock of (insert ineffective solution here) and your hard place of (insert equally-useless option here).

Here’s one of my stuck places: my body doesn’t feel so great. Pain and discomfort have stuck with me for most of my adult life. I have spent a lot of time, energy, and money trying to figure out how to feel better physically.

Over the years, my mysterious aches and pains have driven me to various practitioners of the healing or medicating arts. I always hit a wall. No-one seems able to answer my questions or make me feel better. When I try some new supplement or just plain eating well and exercising, I still end up achy and disappointed.

Therefore, I’m caught between the rock of “trying to make myself feel better” and the hard place of “living with the pain and suffering.”

Both choices have been no choice at all. The first hasn’t worked and the second has not been much of an option. Am I missing something? Is there a third way to grapple with this problem?

The Reconciling Third

After I have spent my energy in seeming futility, I imagine what else I could do with all of this drive to find a way out.

In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr reminds me to survey my surroundings with different eyes. About necessary suffering, he says,

“Being held long and hard inside limits and tension….allows us to search for and often find the ‘reconciling third’ or the unified field beneath it all.”

Jesus reminds me that in this world I will have trouble but, through suffering, He has overcome the world.

St Paul says that I can rejoice in my suffering, knowing it will produce endurance and character leading to hope.

Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade shows me that a step of faith can reveal a hidden and unimaginable way forward.

Hard-Pressed Hebrews

Long ago, Moses and the fleeing Hebrews found themselves in an impossible situation. Pressed between an Egyptian army and a watery wall, they saw no options. The ‘reconciling third’ was nowhere in sight. What they had forgotten, as I often do, is that sometimes the third way is the way God comes through. In the case of the hard-pressed Hebrews, it was a miracle: the supernatural broke into the flow and carved a path through the impassable.

Miracles like this have not broken into my predicaments. Often, my problems resolve in the natural flow of time and space where step follows step and a small erosion brings change and freedom. Like when I realize my feet don’t ache as much or my low back has loosened a bit.

A true miracle for me, though, is when I surrender to the suffering and my suffering reveals itself as a blessing. God sometimes comes through for me by shifting my perspective.

Paradigm Shift

hard view new perspective
pixabay

This shift in my paradigm, my frame of reference, reveals a new angle on an old point of view. A tiny shaft of light breaks into the space.

Like when I accept my physical limitations and suddenly the permission to rest and relax feels like a miracle!  Or when I stop thinking and worrying about the pain and it somehow loses its intensity.

When the situation has not changed but my heart sees it in a different light, I realize that the change I have been searching for is taking place within me. My narrow place gives way to more space.  Hallelujah!

Two Hard-won Nuggets

1. Keep moving.

I will always have seemingly unsolvable problems. However, I’m old enough to realize that many struggles work themselves out as I get up and on with life each day.

  • Any kind of faithful obedience in the same direction, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals the next step on a journey of hope.

2. Find freedom within the prison.

I try to get a new perspective, letting Surrender and Acceptance be my purview.

  • Any kind of faithful obedience in the same situation, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals a beautiful new view within the confines of my condition.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not done searching for a way out of my pain and suffering. But my body must give way to the hardness of the way things are. My heart must soften and yield to what is yet to be revealed.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll find a foothold in one of these walls after all.

 

Of Fear, Faith, and Foxes

faith

The Beginnings of Fear

When I was eight years old, a strange man banged on our front door.

My mom opened it and he asked her, “this cat out here yours?”

Looking over her shoulder at me, he leaned in to say something which only she could hear. Mom turned to me and my sister and brother and told us to wait inside.

“Stay here!” I heard her shout as the door slammed behind her.

But I didn’t stay. I followed her out and around the side of our house on a 10-second delay so she wouldn’t see me disobey. When I turned the corner, I saw the man was pointing at my cat in the road– what was left of him. He had run over him with his truck.

I can’t remember how I felt then or what I did immediately after that discovery. Did my mom see me? Did I tell her what I’d witnessed? I don’t think so. I must’ve run back into the house.

She came in to carefully announce the bad news. “Bruno is dead. Sorry, kids. He was hit by a truck. He must’ve run out into the road.”

I do remember some days later getting off of the school bus on that same road and bursting into tears. My cat was gone because I didn’t take care of him. I began to fear the mistakes I could make. I began to wonder if I could have saved him. Did I have any control over the dangers on the road?

Man Versus Nature

Throughout my childhood there were a few more pet vs. car incidents:

I lost a puppy to a car. Ka-thump.

I saw another pet dog wrestle a moving car’s tire with his teeth. He somehow survived the run-in and lived with a scar to prove it.

I should have had both dogs on a leash. Then they wouldn’t have been where only cars are supposed to be.

Nowadays, whenever I see a small squashed animal body on the road, I feel a deep sadness. It seems so wrong. An innocent life just gone.

You can’t warn the animals about the dangers on the road. They’re just running around doing what animals do. Unfortunately, the people who should be taking care, aren’t.

Friday Fox

On a Friday morning in June this year, I was outside on the back patio early.

Enjoying the cool quiet before the heat and cicadas came calling, I spotted the fox. He was maybe 20 feet away from me at the edge of the yard just doing what animals do. His coat was plump and fluffy, an orange-red perfection. He never noticed me. I stared frozen as he sniffed the ground then scratched an ear. I had a whole 60 seconds of joy before he headed toward the creek and disappeared down the bank.

The visit felt like a gift from God.

That evening, my husband Scott and I went out to a movie. At about 9 PM, we were headed back home. I was taking care to drive the speed limit. Actually, I was driving kind of slow.

Scott said, “Why don’t you speed up?”

Normally I would. But the road wasn’t well-lit and I worry about hitting deer, raccoons, and even opossums.

“I’m driving at a comfortable speed for me,” I said.

Scott said, “OK, babe.”

It was dark and just felt right to poke along, take it easy. When I turned into our neighborhood I remember thinking, ‘you gotta be careful on the roads close to home, too.’

And so I was.

Taking Care

Just then, the fox that had visited that morning ran across the road exactly where we were passing at 22 mph. I slammed on the brakes and felt the rumble of the tires as they pulsed to a stop. I screamed, covered my face with my hands, and leaned sobbing into the steering wheel.

Scott hadn’t seen the fox. What? he stared at me.

“The fox, I just ran over the fox, I killed the fox!!” I couldn’t bear it.

He opened his passenger-side door and looked down at the road. Sure enough, there was the poor little creature lying against the curb.

Scott said, “it’s alive but just lying there. Wait, now it’s getting up, limping a little!”

As I leaned to look, my fox was already trotting across the closest lawn without a limp. He was gone in 10 seconds, disappearing between two houses.

Life, Death, and Resurrection

I saw him alive but my body held onto his death. The grief and anguish stayed with me even though I had seen the fox scamper off.

Scott and I talked about the incident for hours that night. He said, “that actually felt personal.”

I agreed. The fact was, I had taken care, done what I could to mitigate the dangers of the road. How was it possible that the timing was so impeccable, that our paths had intersected twice in one day on that fateful Friday?

The morning encounter resulted in joy, the nighttime incident left me in anguish. I was afraid he had run away to die but I held on in faith that he was truly alive and well.

Faith Without Restraint

That confusing day stirred up memories of the years when Scott and I were touring and raising our 3 kids on the road. At home, we had the safest car we could afford, we bought the best car seats, and we always buckled up for safety.

But when we rode tour buses, everyone just bounced around in the front lounge without any restraints.

One winter, we were traveling down a highway during an ice storm. Our tour bus suddenly slid off onto the side of the road and then a truck slammed into us. No one was hurt except the bus.

A policeman came to cart us to a nearby motel to wait out the storm. I grabbed the car seats from the storage bay but he said, “no car seats– I’m in a hurry to help other people.” I insisted but he was adamant.

Unbelievable! Twice in one day, we were driving down an icy highway and my kids were untethered. I was totally out of control. All I had to hold onto was faith that God was in control.

What Does The Fox Say

faithI have thought about and talked about that Friday Fox for weeks now.

Looking for clues about our two meetings, I wonder: were they random or personal?

Random means nothing is in my control. Personal means nothing is in my control. What do I have to fear?

I learned young that not taking care of small things could lead to suffering and tragedy. When raising my kids, I worked hard to avoid a terrible mistake. I don’t think I could have been more careful.

What difference does it make to take care or make mistakes?

The fox stirs up questions about my fear and about my faith. Can I trust God in the intersections of life, death, and resurrections? And what is my role in the whole business?

Maybe God is not sending foxes to my yard or under my car. Perhaps there’s just an organic and mysterious flow of purpose that moves His creatures to meet at the crossroads of life.

Or maybe He is sending messages through small animals, telling me to take care but trust in His care and leave the outcomes and answers to Him.

Fear says, what if you make a mistake? Faith says, so what if you make a mistake?

As I finish writing this, I get to add one more part to the story: just yesterday a small fox visited Scott and me in our yard. It appeared to be my Friday Fox, just hanging out in the same place I’d seen him two months ago.

This story ends with my fears relieved and my faith turned to sight. My Friday Fox is alive and well, doing what animals do in the world.

My Moment at the Well

finding life

He startles me as I walk up to the well. I hadn’t seen him sitting there under the trees. I turn around to face him as he begins talking to me. He says he wants some water to drink. I think it strange that he is alone. We are in the middle of nowhere. In the heat of the day. He has no way of getting to the water. No jar and such a deep well. He’s obviously parched. What is he doing here all by himself?

 People come from all over to sit and drink where Jacob himself once watered his flocks. He and his sons had walked these surrounding fields. This place is holy to us even if it isn’t to the Jews.

I mess with him a little. “You’re asking me for a drink? A woman of Samaria?” I know Jews don’t want to have anything to do with us. With me. Yet here he is, needing my help because he’s worn out. Thirsty. He is depending on me. How funny.

He answers me, saying something about if I knew who he was, I’d be asking him for a drink of ‘living’ water. He seems a little crazy. Well, I’ll take the bait.

I say to him in my sweetest voice, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” I’m smiling at him like I do when talking to a little kid who tells me that the stones he’s holding are real gold.

Who does he think he is, anyway? This well has been here for thousands of years and probably took months to dig. Out of nowhere he’s going to produce this so-called living water and I’m going to beg him for it? I don’t think so.

“You’ll never be thirsty again,” he is saying. If I drink the water he could give me, he says it will become in me a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Wow, that sounds fantastic. Water that just wells up in my body. Exactly what I need so I don’t have to come back again and again to this damned well just to stay alive and keep my dishes clean.

I’m so sick of trudging up and down this path alone with an old container that empties as fast as I fill it, with no kids to help, no man who cares to lift a finger for me, and flocks of women moving aside when they see me coming. Sure, fella, I’ll take some of that living water.

Of course now he tells me to go get my husband. Always turns out this way: women need a man to speak for them. A man to head the household. A man to stay around and do what he said he would do. I haven’t had any men like that in my life since my first husband died. After that, the others left or divorced me as soon as they realized they weren’t getting any sons and daughters out of me. Those liars are long gone.

“I have no husband,” I tell him.

“You’re right,” he says, “and the man you have now isn’t even your husband.”

His accusation is right. But how could he know that? He hasn’t been in town or hung around long enough to hear the gossip. And gossip they do, those heartless witches. No compassion- only judgment for a girl who tried to live by the rules but got stepped on and left behind by those rules instead.

He must be a prophet or something. This is getting interesting… and a little too personal. I wonder what he’ll say about those rules for living God’s way. If it is God’s way. So many rules that I can’t seem to keep to satisfy anyone around here.

“You Jews say we’re supposed to worship in Jerusalem even though our fathers worshiped God here on this mountain.” That’ll get him talking about what all men want to talk about: religion and politics.

He’s looking at me with a sweet smile on his face. “Woman, believe me…”

The way he called me ‘woman’ just now almost made me cry. Like I was someone he cared about. Someone he knew.

He’s saying that the time is coming and is even now happening- that it won’t matter where we worship God. He says true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. He’s even saying that the Father is looking for those kind of people.

I’ve never heard anyone talk religion like this! It feels like he’s just toppled over a rock wall inside of me. I’m tasting the dust of fear and freedom at the same time.

I mumble something I’ve heard all of my life, something about the messiah someday coming to tell us everything we need to know.

“That’s me,” he says. And I know he isn’t lying.

All of a sudden, some guys are coming up to him, looking shocked that he is talking to me.

I don’t care. My insides feel like churning water. My legs are weak as if I’m ripe wheat, just cut down and gathered up into the arms of God. Something in me wells up and I begin to run for joy. I float and fly into town. Suddenly I love everyone and want to hug them and tell them about the man who knows my story better than I do. The man who saw right through me. The man who saw ME and still smiled as if he loved me, cared about ME!


That day they all followed me back out of town and down to the well. I must’ve sounded like a crazy person. But I must’ve looked like a prophet because they followed me and for some reason, they believed me. Like I was somebody that had tasted something they were thirsty for.

I don’t know what life is gonna be like around here now that Jesus has come through. He only stayed a couple of days. That was long enough to make believers out of a lot of people in this place. They said they know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.

Everybody’s talking about him. They feel the way I felt.

But I met him first. I got to talk to him alone when no one else even knew how awesome he was.

Now, every time I go to that well, Jacob’s well, I remember the man who gave me a taste of living water. Sometimes that visit seems more like a dream than a memory. But I know it’s real. I remember how he told me about my crazy history. How he said that he was the Christ. How he looked at me and loved me.

I don’t worry now that I can’t get to Jerusalem to worship. I don’t just hope that the Father knows I want to worship him the right way, because He already knows. Because even though I’m way out here in no man’s land, He came through once, looking for me.

Read next: Everyday The Dust Comes Back 

 

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