Escape Artist

Here goes nothing. This has been a risky piece to write. I suppose confessions are that way. I fully anticipate judgements to come from my words here, but it is okay – I have the comfort of knowing which judgement matters and Who makes it.

Over the span of my life I moved thirty times. Being a military brat in my childhood years makes that kind of thing normal every six months to a year. Regardless of the ever-changing surroundings, I had a constant in my life – my family. Despite the constant of family and the continuous changing environments, I was still me. Maybe moving so often and not having friends for more than a year or so at a time drove me into my head to live. That turned out to be a temporary refuge and then a downward spiral as adulthood arrived.

It became easy to find distraction in my head. My head became an escape hatch. I could escape reality there, at least for a while, and live a complete life in a land of fantasy. Maybe we all live in our heads at times. Many wordless conversations took place there for me…where I talked to me…argued with me…ignored me…encouraged me. In my head I found a source of so many of the stories and poetry I wrote – influenced by creative imagination or who knows whatever else. I never asked…I just listened to the muse and obediently wrote it all down…the good and the evil.

To author a story and then learn that I transported someone else into that same world proved to be validation that I really could survive in this private world. But it was not enough. Wherever I lived, whatever I had to do, whoever hung out with me never seemed to be enough. Was it my predisposition to “move on”? Was my short attention span related to every aspect of my life and tied to an annual clock? Was there some rule in my life that said, “Okay, twelve months have passed, it’s time to move on!” Or was it a defect in me that prompted me to become bored with routine normalcy and seek change?

I now know I was, and still am, an imperfect man, but I also know goodness now lives within me. I know that I sinned with the best, and I have done some things that only God knows how badly I feel about them. And many of those platinum-level sins I choose to enjoy were done in an effort to escape something or someone. Sometimes the “someone” was me.

Alcohol and drugs seemed pretty effective in making those escape attempts successful – at least that is what the voices in my head and I decided to agree upon. I got fairly good at justifying just about anything. That became easier and easier to do when I was in charge…and still had a bag of pot. When it ran out, it really hurt – physically hurt. The pain in my stomach became unbearable, but not nearly as bad as the ache in my heart. I had to get away. I had to escape that life. This time the escape was not someone; I wanted to escape being sober and having to face everything I thought I had left behind. Not so. It all remained right where I attempted to ignore it; I had only been distracted by my buzz.

Joy had not been part of my life. But who needed joy when you could roll a joint or gun down too many shots of tequila and be really really happy? Everything I searched for to sustain my happiness always laid external to me. And why wouldn’t it be? I was already conditioned to start another search for happiness in a new home. I had to find new friends, had to assimilate into a new job promotion, had to do this, had to do that, had to… Looking outside of myself was normal because outside of myself is where I figured out what it would take to survive. Certainly, happiness and joy would be out there too. So I looked for it. I smoked it. I drank it. I screwed it. As a result I had become selfish, self-centered, and sought to feed my own need for happiness before anyone else.

And then I began to write about it. I discovered a brand-new escape hatch. I found a new way to ignore what had become a difficult life being me. Do not get me wrong, I was a good father and a good husband when I was still married, but there was “me” to satisfy even then, and I never missed many chances to satisfy number one. And later, if what I wrote satisfied someone else, it gave me a rush as powerful as any drug. The rush was not because I wanted to make a relationship out of knowing my readers; the rush I got was the knowledge that my words influenced their actions; touched them in some way. It was a power rush. I wrote smut; call it erotica if you like, but it was pure smut. Did someone become aroused by something I wrote? Did they have outrageous sex with a spouse…a complete stranger? Did they steal away and have an illicit affair? Were my words their escape too?

I never really cared because I wrote to satisfy myself; never really considered that my words may have wrecked a marriage. While I justified to myself that I advocated sexual techniques to satisfy a lover before oneself – teaching the power and beauty of eroticism to husbands and wives – I overlooked what easily became something very wrong to others. Too much of what I wrote easily implied unfaithfulness and deception and quite possibly promoted those things to manifest in reader’s lives.

While my words breathed erotic fuel into some marriages, I am confident I spoiled others, my own included. I had become something I never considered. And I could not see it while I lived it. Only looking back can see what I had become, a smut writer, and once again I needed to escape. I had to admit I was broken and found these few verses in Second Peter that convicted me beyond question:

They love to indulge in evil pleasures in broad daylight. They are a disgrace and a stain among you. They delight in deception even as they eat with you in your fellowship meals. They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed.
2 Peter 2:12-14

They brag about themselves with empty, foolish boasting. With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you.
2 Peter 2:18-19

I willingly allowed my life to be controlled by an environment external to myself – an environment built upon my own doing. While stories came from my head, the motivation purely fed the desire to stimulate responses external to me. I needed the rush of acceptance. I needed to feed the beast that kept demanding more and more to remain satisfied. Like with every addiction, I could not keep up with the increasing demand for satisfaction. I could not get high enough or drunk enough or aroused enough to cover the emptiness I tried to fill. There was no escape. This was my life, and as happy as I could be sometimes, it was not enough. What could I change to make me happy all the time?

Even after giving my life to Christ I did not find life to be happy all the time. There was always someone or something at work trying to screw me over. The lives of my children were difficult by my own doing. Good friends were getting sick and dying. Where was happiness in all that? Where indeed. I had given my life to Christ and yet I continued to look outside of myself for happiness. Nothing changed. Where was Christ? I gave Him my life, and then he bolted.

Happiness was the wrong thing to look for, although I had convinced myself that being happy was a sign of a good life. Feeling good meant happiness had been reached. Happiness was something I had to acquire through my own actions. Happiness was a destination, some place to get to, someplace outside of myself. It had to be found someplace else because I was not in it…at least not all the time. Why wasn’t my life decision to surrender to Christ making me happy?

Turns out the search should have been for joy. I had that at my fingertips…actually at my knees. I only had to fall onto them and ask. When I did, I discovered the Holy Spirit in me. He had been there all along, patiently waiting for my request.

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.
Galatians 5:22-24

I discovered earlier that giving my life to Christ had been based on the theory of giving, not the practice of giving. Giving your life to Christ is not a transaction like getting a tattoo or taking a magical pill to make you feel better. It means living a relationship with Him through prayer, through living the Word, and living your life through Him…and Him through you.

Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
Galatians 5:25

Life was never intended to be about being happy all the time. I learned that it was about knowing the joy that a life in Christ could bring if I was willing to live it. Joy was in my heart. The Holy Spirit lived in my heart waiting to fill me up. If only I had thought to look there. The solution seems now to be so painfully simple that I doubted it was for real. That is when I discovered that it would only be real if I lived it – if I practiced it in living my life.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
Galatians 6:2-3

I finally came to realize…and admit…that talk was cheap. So was the theory of giving my life to Christ. It required more commitment – more relationship to practice it. Intertwined in the exercise of doing His work is where the reward of joy in the Spirit is found.

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.
Galatians 6:10

So here I am, doing what I believe is God’s will for me. Openly confessing brokenness: sober for many years now and fighting to stay in a joyful relationship with the Spirit one day at a time.

Are you looking for an escape? It is nothing to be ashamed of, and there are no past sins too great to make a clean break. I am proof of that. Escape was only a matter of asking to join the His kingdom family of faith from the heart.

If my words have spoken to you, know you are in my prayers that you also will find what you have been looking for…it is right there in your heart. Just ask Him.