Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Other Closet

As I sign into this blog every time I post a new entry, I type in the url..."thedarkestcloset". It got me to thinking about the title and why I selected it. It was over a year and a half ago that I began this blog and when I created it, I had no idea what it would hold or in all actuality, why I was evening writing it. When the box appeared asking for a title, I didn't sit and ponder for very long. The concept of "closet" popped into my mind and I simply went with it.

Over the past several weeks, I've been giving the word "closet" some thought and realized that it is a very apt title for this blog...and my life. It probably came to my mind while I was talking to my men's Bible study two weeks ago and I told them that when I think about my life five years ago and the following three years in prison, my natural self wants to put that memory in the deepest closet in the house, lock the door and then double padlock it and then cover that door with a six inch solid steel door so that no one (myself included) could ever get to it. But God has other plans for my life and my story, but that is for another time.

As I think about "closet" and my own life, a number of similarities have emerged for me. The first is that closets are often times hiding places. When we are children and we play "hide and seek", one of the common places that we like to hide in is the closet. We try to squish ourselves into the deepest recesses behind the long fur coat so we can't be seen.

That was my life. At every opportunity, I tried to hide. Often times it was in plain sight, but nonetheless, I was hiding. It might have been in a book or inside of a football uniform. At other times, it was behind a drunken haze. But in each case, I was hiding. I think in my own mind, if I didn't have to look at the real me...if I could hide it, then my demons weren't real. My sadness belonged to someone else.

Closets also bring to mind the concept of fantasy and make believe. One of my favorite movies is "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". In the story, the children find an old wardrobe (a precursor to the closet) and it takes them to a different world...to Narnia. I remember the closet in my mom and dad's bedroom. Tucked away in the corner were my dad's Army uniforms. I remember as a young boy looking at them and putting on his jacket (I don't think he knew I was doing this). I would pretend to be a soldier...a hero of some type.

Five years ago, my life was full of fantasy. I was living a secret life where I was pretending to be someone I wasn't...and never could be. A young teenage boy. And in this fantasy life, I was creating fantasy relationships with other teenage boys. The fantasy would become so real at times that I would wake up in the middle of the night and realize that I was actually 48 years old and wish with all of my heart that I was actually that 14-15 year old boy. It wasn't that my life was bad and I needed to escape it...it was more that the fantasy was a life that I didn't get to have and that in some way I was trying to relive.

Closets are also dark places...and my life was so dark that it was nearly impossible for true light to penetrate it. It was full of deceit and lies...and immorality and lust. And because I knew that everything that I was doing was wrong, I tried with all my skills to keep them out of the light. And I was pretty successful for nearly three and a half years. But as God tells us in His Word, the light will always reveal what happens in the dark...and it definitely did in my life.

The last correlation that I made between my life and closets were the secrets. Because closets are small, closed spaces, they are an easy place for secrets. My dad hid some of his pornography in his closet. I'm not sure if it was there to keep it a secret from mom...or from us boys. My folks kept all of their private papers in their closet as well...including the papers that would reveal that my sister actually had a different father than my brothers and I did. I've heard stories where people will sneak into a closet at a party for a quick kiss...or more...because they don't want to be seen by their spouses.

For me, I think this last relationship is the most powerful. My life was so full of secrets! Some of them, I didn't even recognize for a long time. Things that happened to me as a boy that I was too ashamed (or afraid) to tell anyone. My feelings about trust that I simply didn't understand. My confusion over sexuality and my struggle with appropriate feelings of affection for other males. So many secrets that were so easy to keep hidden in my own little closet.

But through my writing, the closet is getting broken down. The door has been opened and taken off its hinges so that pure light can enter. It is still working to penetrate some of the deepest corners of my closet, but it is slowly getting there. And for me, the darkness is passing away to reveal a life of hope...and purpose...and truth.

Photos from Flickr

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cherished Moments!

It seems every trip, it happens! I'm never sure when it will occur. It might be early in the morning...just the two of us with everyone else asleep. Or sometimes, it will be in the evening when Walt is upstairs watching football or a Blazer's game. But the one thing that I can always count on is that it WILL happen.

Five years ago, I would have hated it. Probably done most anything to try to avoid it. I would have slept in late until everyone else was up. Or I'd feign tiredness and rush off to bed. Or, and sadly this is the most likely...I'd sit there and listen, and simply lie through my teeth, silently praying that it would be over soon. This event that might be so terrible? Simply talking.

I visited my sister and her husband this weekend and had a wonderful time. As always, I was spoiled rotten with great food and an abundance of love. Usually, I even get to win at cards, but that didn't happen this trip. But the talk my sister and I had that has become a tradition of sorts. Walt was out mowing the lawn and Toby was out resting after a long walk and swim down to the river. That left Debbie and me about an hour and half to sit around the kitchen table to just talk.

I've come to cherish these conversations. Both of us simply seem to be able to talk about nearly everything and anything. Personal things that I don't share with many people...and that I never shared with my wife when I was married. Fears. Dreams. Anxieties. Advise. Sometimes...perhaps even a rebuke (I know I've received them, I'm not sure I've given one yet). For some, this wouldn't seem like such a big deal, but for me it's a major milestone. I simply am no longer afraid to have "real" conversations with the people that I love.

One of the benefits of travelling the 120+ miles each way to my sister's is the time I have alone to think and contemplate and reflect on my way home. My sister has revealed her heart to me over the past year and half, and during that process...has revealed her vulnerabilities. I know how hard that is to do. You only do that with those that you have genuine relationship with and trust completely.

As I drove home, getting off the freeway and travelling the back highways as much as possible, I thought a lot about our family today. And it saddened me as I thought about the relationships...or lack thereof...that we have with each other. I had to start by looking at myself in the mirror. For most of my married life, I had detached myself from most of my family...especially my sister and my younger brother. I really didn't have any good reason and I don't believe it was intentional in an attempt to hurt either of them, but I didn't work at building or maintaining a relationship with either of them. And I know that they were both hurt by my insensitivity.

My life has changed dramatically in the past five years and I have been touched and amazed at the way each of my siblings have reached out to me to give me love and support. I have to honestly say that at first, I wasn't very receptive, but none of them gave up. And now, by the grace of God, my heart has been softened to the point where I cherish the relationships that I now have. They are so unlike any that I have had in the past.

The most significant difference is that I understand that I don't need the relationships to be whole, but they help to make me whole. I don't need the relationships to know that I am loved, but they help me to feel loved. I don't need the relationships as my only way through a tough time, but they help me to make it through. I don't need the relationship, but I'm so glad that I have them.

I don't really know if I truly understand why at this point in my life, I've decided to reach out and re-establish these relationships that I had been so careless about for so many years. There are things about each of my siblings that I struggle with...things that I wish were different somehow. But call it maturity (or simply the wisdom that comes with old age), but the differences aren't that important any more. I no longer try to expend my energies trying to change any of them...because it would be a fruitless exercise, and who's to say I'm right in the first place. I simply want each of them to know that I love them and want them to know that I'm here for them when they need me.

As I drove up the wooded highway through Bucota and Tenino and Rainier, my heart had a longing and a hope. It sounds simple, but I know the difficulty below the surface. That hope? That all of my family would find restoration in the relationships between each of us. To put the hurts and the anger and the sense of betrayal and the lack of understanding behind us, and do what God created us to do and commanded us to do...love one another. Not in words, but in the way we interact with one another...the way that we relate with one another.

I know that for me, it has to start with me. I know I've taken a few steps in the right direction and I'm learning to believe that when one of my siblings "hurt" me in some way, that it wasn't intentional. I'm learning that one of the best ways that I can show my love for each of them and work at building my relationship with them is to listen...and talk...and be gently honest in everything.

I don't know where the next one will occur. They can't be planned, because it will never be as good. But, I know it's coming...and I look forward to what I'll hear, and what I'll say...and the strength that it will bring to our relationship.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On the Brink of the Abyss

I find myself thinking about those days...and nights...

Tap...tap...tap. Tap...tap...tap...tap...tap

The sound of my fingers flying across the keyboard of my laptop. Too many times, Paula hadn't been out of the house more than five minutes before I had hooked the computer up, plugged it into the phone jack, hooked up the box that would alert me to any incoming calls and settled onto the bed for a full night spent in the chat rooms. And I mean FULL night. On many occasions, it would be 5:00 AM by the time I closed the computer so I could get an hour of sleep before I head back to work.

As I reflect back on those days, I can still remember the pull toward that place...a place that ended up being darker than the blackness of a deep cave. It was like I could hear the voices calling me.

"Josh...come chat with me."

"Danny, where are you? I thought you'd be online tonight."

"Dammit Conner...come on. Get your butt online so we can talk."

I had so many names, I couldn't keep them all straight. So many friends, I would get confused about who I was chatting with and say something that simply didn't make sense. So many lies!!! At times, I wish I could tell everyone of the people that I chatted with what a fake I was. How sorry I am if I hurt them in any way. How dangerous it is to pretend to be someone you're not. How probable it is that if you get too close to the edge of the abyss, you will fall in.
That's what I did...I fell in. And like a blind man walking along a narrow path, I never saw what was coming. In fact, I was so confident in myself and how well I was hiding what I was doing from everyone who cared about me, it never occurred to me that the FBI might be the one that caught me. In my blindness, I never thought that was even a remote possibility.

But I'm slowly discovering why I was so blind. I was in need of a relationship that I couldn't find any where else. They say that if you isolate a person (such as solitary confinement), he will eventually go insane. And if possible, he will do anything to find a relationship, even create an imaginary one.

In the year 2000, Tom Hanks made a movie called "Castaway",that was a box-office hit. In it, he plays a character whose plane crashes on an isolated island. He finds himself there all alone for four long years. Eventually, not able to tolerate day after day alone, he creates a friend to talk to. A volleyball named "Wilson" (after the brand name stamped on the ball). He becomes so attached to his "friend", that when it gets lost, he becomes exceedingly distressed. In the natural, it doesn't make sense to make friends with a volleyball, and believe that it is human and that it can actually carry on a conversation with you. But one of the reasons I think the movie was so popular was because many of us can identify with that kind of lonliness.

Thankfully, I was never that alone. But I'm coming to recognize that at times, I felt extremely alone...even when surrounded by other people. Even when people that I cared for talked to me and spent time with me. I would find myself looking for something more, and when I discovered the chat room, I found myself like a piece of iron being drawn to a powerful magnet.


Tap... tap....tap.

All night long, my fingers cramping. My eyes red and bloodshot. A chat over....searching for the next person. It didn't matter who they were...as long as they would talk to me. As long as I could believe they were who they said they were. No matter that I was lying through my teeth to each of them. If I got any indication at all that they weren't a teenage boy, they were history! And I wasn't too kind about telling them how I felt about them lying to me and deceiving me. How blind could I be! I hated them for being exactly what I was!

There were times when I was on the edge of that abyss and my foot slipped. I could feel my stomach up in my throat as the fear overwhelmed me. But I would always catch myself. Get my feet back underneath me. Tell another lie to explain away why I was home late from work. Another lie about why I didn't answer the phone. Another lie about how great the football game was when in fact I was on my computer in my office chatting. I always caught myself. I never got too close. I was like Boris in the James Bond movie "GoldenEye", whose famous last line was "I am invincible!" He thought he had made it...but ends up frozen stiff when a vat of liquid nitrogen explodes on him.

But like Boris, I wasn't invincible. I got too close to the edge of the abyss too many times and eventually fell so deep I couldn't lie my way out of it. Sometimes, I wonder if I'll ever go looking for that abyss again. I know how dangerous it can be...and I know how tempting it can be.

But the truth is, I don't think it has the same attraction any longer. I am so much more alone now than I ever was during that season of my life. I have literally no intimacy. And I'd be a liar if I said I never got lonely. But that need for a relationship isn't as strong as it once was. Probably because I've found relationship with One who is always with me, no matter what. He will always listen when I talk to Him...and if I am willing to listen, He will talk to me. Sometimes, just simply talk. He's led me away from the edge of that abyss onto much more solid ground. My prayer is that I remain there in His presence.

Photo from Flickr

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Quest!

Why is it that when you're in the middle of something, it's always so hard to see, but when you gain some distance...and actually look, it is so obvious? I had that kind of "aha!" moment this week and I wasn't even really looking all that hard.

It really all started when I was just a little kid. It's naturally, really. We all look for it. Some find it, but sadly I believe many don't. I'm talking about validation. Even before we can talk, we learn that if we make enough noise, someone will notice and give us approval. It's usually mom, but at least we get a response. In a simple sense, that's all validation is. But I've discovered this past week that I spent nearly my entire life looking for it in all the wrong places.

I read a book recently (for about the 5th time) that brought some real clarity to me. The author states that validation (at least for boys) needs to come from their father. And that validation really needs to come before the age of 12. I grew up in a house where that validation was never given. Not to me. Not to my sister. Not to my brothers. It simply wasn't offered. I'm not blaming my dad...I'm not sure he was ever validated himself, or if he even knew how. The simple truth is that it never happened for me. So I sought it elsewhere.

At first, it was from my brothers and sister. I wanted to be noticed in a good way. But the reality is, they were simply kids just like I was. I didn't validate them and they didn't validate me. In fact, the opposite more than likely occurred. I felt different...a lisp, big ears, so ticklish I'd cry (Geoff loved that), unattractive...so I found ways to hide instead. So I sought it elsewhere.

As I entered school, I looked for validation from new friends. That seemed to last for a while, but it seemed that the friends would always end up leaving. Not necessarily because of me. Most of them simply moved away. But it impacted my self confidence and I found it more and more difficult to try to make friends...at least really close friends. I always had people that I called friends and my drinking exploits made me fun to be around I guess (it's always fun to watch a guy "shotgun" a can of beer under 3 seconds). But it didn't take long to become apparent, even to me, that I was being noticed for the wrong reasons. So I sought it elsewhere.

The next stop was sex. It didn't really matter what kind it was. Pornography. Masturbation. Intercourse. It didn't even really matter who it was with. There was always a genuine "high" that came with the sex and the relationships, but it never seemed to last. Like a drug, I would want to find something a little more exciting...move it to a new level. So I sought it elsewhere.

Like too many men, I became a workaholic. I tend to be a perfectionist by nature and I found myself always ending up in a position of responsibility. And as I worked hard there, I would move up to a higher position. Then a higher position. It seemed no matter what job I had, my eyes seemed to begin looking at "what might be next". Although I loved my job(s), I was always lured to the next level. It wasn't giving me the validation that I was so deeply craving, though I didn't realize it. So I sought it elsewhere.

Midway through my life, I met the most incredible woman I've ever known. She was beautiful, gentle, giving, loving...everything that I had ever imagined in a woman. And deep down, I believe she was out of my league! She had way too much going for her to be interested in a guy like me. But I was wrong. She was totally, deeply in love with me. And we got married and spent 15 wonderful years of marriage.

But then something happened...and I don't know what it was because it wasn't a "real" thing that happened. In every way, it seemed that she validated me. She encouraged and praised. She treated me so much better than I ever thought I deserved. She loved and nurtured. But for unfathomable reason, it wasn't enough. So I sought it elsewhere.

I found myself alone in a motel room, surfing the internet...looking at pornography. I made a choice that I still can't explain to go into a chat room (I'd never been in one before) and started to chat with a 15 year old teenager in Georgia. As it turned out, it was curious about boys...and something in me changed. It was like after nearly 30 years of sometimes confused sexuality, there was someone else who shared those feelings. And we talked. And then I discovered there were hundreds of guys in chat rooms who were willing to talk about things I'd never shared with anyone before. And I believe that maybe I felt somewhat validated for the first time in my life...in a different way than ever before.

And then it happened. My life collapsed. The chat rooms ultimately included illegal pornography and it led to my arrest. And during the dark months after my arrest before prison, it became so clear what a fantasy I had been living. I was seeking validation from "invisible" people who mostly likely weren't who they claimed to be. And they never really, truly validated me. So I sought it elsewhere.

It seemed there was no where else to turn for what I was needing so desperately. I had searched everywhere to be noticed for who I am but in the process, I tried to be someone that I wasn't. I tried to be whoever I needed to be with whoever I was seeking validation from. And then He found me. Ironically, He had been there all the time. I had simply never looked to Him for my validation. I won't necessarily blame myself for that...I didn't really know Him and I'd never tried to get to know Him. I didn't know I was supposed to.

But during the darkest time in my life, my true Father revealed Himself to me and gave me what I had been searching my entire life for. He has shown me who I am as He created me...including my imperfections. What I wanted to hide my entire life, I can accept now as a beautiful part of who I am. I know who I am...and I'm OK with that. I finally feel complete. So I no longer need to seek...I've found my validation. And now, I can hopefully begin to restore the relationships that I left shattered in my wake as I journeyed through my life on this quest.

Photo from Flickr