Not even a month ago, I was throwing around creative ideas with one of my best friends Imon. From our incredibly weird icebreaker questions to the wide variety of activities that we partake in, nothing is really off the table when it comes to outlandish ideas.
That night particularly we discussed creating a posthumous form of media that would communicate some sort of message to the people we left behind should we surprisingly be wiped from life here on earth. This was ironically before the hysteria and seriousness of Covid-19 became as apparent as it is now.
We talked about how our youth might have prevented us from being as honest, grateful, or genuine as we might have been if we knew our time was rapidly coming to a close. We thought it would be a novel concept to reflect at the end of one year and to write a “good-bye” of sorts that would only release if we died that following year. After some development, we decided it would be an interesting concept to release the previous year’s message if we lived through the next, kind of like a “forced honesty accountability session.”
For some reason, I couldn’t fall asleep tonight, and I felt that this post needed to be written. So without further ado: Paul from Beyond the Grave: the 2019 Edition.
I’ve spent a lot of my life afraid. From the fear of the dark to the fear of failure, it seems that fear has driven the majority of my decisions.
Oftentimes my fear of how far gone I was stunted my own growth and healing because I refused to acknowledge that there was something that I needed to address.
There have been so many personal demons that I have remained quiet about for so long for fear of rejection. That lie that “if people knew what you did, they could never look at you ever again.”
How often that lie has repeated in my head, holding me in a constant state of limbo. As I held the secrets deep inside, the sickness festered and slowly destroyed me.
Rest and peace were nowhere to be found as anxiety and depression sucked the life out of me.
It is so painfully ironic. We cling to our darkness and secrets as if they will keep us safe if they stay hidden, yet late at night, when no one is awake, that is the exact same time when we stare into the abyss and believe the lies that our own secretiveness breeds.
There is this misconception that “special” people need to go to therapy because they can’t handle their own emotions.
Or that they are weak.
Or some other ridiculous stigma-ridden statement that discourages it.
Just drug up and suck it up right?
If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know, that as a human being, one of the best decisions you can make, is to get professional help to walk you through processing your life.
All of our lives are filled with trauma. We have all experienced valid physical, emotional, and spiritual hurts that we have had to learn to somehow deal with. Some of us have healed, but the vast majority of us have gotten really good at hiding pain and pretending that problems don’t exist.
Therapy is no panacea (a fancy word that means a solve all or a wonder cure), but wouldn’t you like to get to know who you are better than you already do?
For so much of my life, I preferred getting to know why some girl that I thought was cute did what she did rather than understanding why I did what I did.
I talk about this concept to some degree in As Yourself but basically, how can we adequately love those around us if we do not love ourselves? And how can we love ourselves if we don’t know ourselves?
I have learned so much about showing myself grace, how events in the past have shaped how I think and react to the world, and how my pain/hurt/anger/frustration/thoughts are valid.
I’ve experienced so much healing and reconciliation in relationships, but the greatest benefit has been the ability to look into the mirror and not hate myself while continually extending myself grace for each new day. The process is by no means easy, but healing is SO much better than temporary fixes and negative coping mechanisms.
Because eventually, the buzz wears off, we come down from the high, and the people closest to us aren’t accessible for some reason and we are left alone to face our biggest opponent: ourselves.
Alone: Enter the Porn Pandemic
I remember sitting in the high school youth group as boys split from girls as special speakers talked to each gender separately about “sexual purity.”
I remember stumbling upon pornography abandoned by a previous tenant in an apartment that we stayed in for a very short stint right before high school.
I remember how natural curiosity led to an obsession with a medium that I thought didn’t hurt anyone.
I distinctly remember how when the stress came in full force during college, how I failed out of engineering because I wasn’t sleeping.
What a tangled web porn weaves.
I grew up in church, wasn’t abused as a kid, and had quite a normal childhood.
How did I get to this point?
I am so alone. If people knew…
They can’t- must never find out.
This will be my little secret.
Oh, how I’ve wanted to write on this subject.
Oh, but what a hypocrite I would be, to write on a subject that I don’t yet have under control.
But, for those of you who do struggle, be encouraged for you are indeed not alone.
In the last decade and a half, pornography has become so much more accessible. What used to be age-restricted in certain video stores or confined to the pages of magazines now fits in our pockets for free. Studies are still discovering the full effects of this cheap counterfeit of meaningful relationships, but the data keeps rolling in about how harmful it really is.
I’m not talking harmful as in “bad or immoral behavior,” I mean literal re-wiring of your brain and your perception of intimacy bad.
Outside of that, the drug-like endorphin-abusing nature of porn requires a higher level of potency to maintain the same high. Which means just like physical drugs, porn consumption will LITERALLY never leave us satisfied because we will continue to escalate our consumption to maintain the same high. The links between gender violence and porn have time and time again been shown to exist. Racism and sexism get a free pass in the porn genre for some reason. But I mean we already know this. (for more information on the harmful effects of pornography check out this organization called “Fight the New Drug” or do what I did, and listen to their podcast “Consider Before Consuming“)
One of the things that discouraged me most about porn was the fact that there was no one to talk to about it.
On the one hand, you have church where there is this huge age difference between the teachers and the students and so the struggles and temptations of today are neither understood nor addressed. As if saying, “Sex is good, but don’t do it if you aren’t married” is adequate teaching to help a young person traverse the literal fucking minefield that is adolescence nowadays. And then second to premarital sex is the more closet offender, porn. Now porn is an even less discussed topic so CLEARLY, no one struggles with it. OR if it is, let’s simply treat the symptoms without getting to the root of the void that porn is attempting to fill.
Then, on the other hand, you have literally everyone else. And everyone else is JUST as confused as me. Media says sex is one thing, movies say relationships are another thing, and then we are being fed different narratives depending on who we are. “Porn is empowering,” “porn is degrading,” among all the other mixed messages that are being broadcasted.
Either way, you look at it, the topic is so taboo to discuss that many times we just don’t.
I remember the first time I told my college pastor about my porn problem. His response was a complete shock to my system as he hugged me and told me that I was more than this habit.
Over the years, I’ve become increasingly more transparent with what I struggle with, because I’ve realized that there is something strange that happens when secrets are exposed. It will differ from individual to individual, but I’ve realized that a lot of my triggers stem from much deeper fears of being alone or feeling out of control. Now instead of fighting a losing battle where I only treat the symptoms, I’m attempting to address the underlying reason why I consume what I consume.
I will say, that much of my ability to process the “why” behind a lot my vices has been aided immensely by the work that therapy has aided me in beginning.
If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know these things I’ve learned:
- You aren’t alone. This is a huge issue. How the world addresses porn is going to determine how deep the social consequences in the future will be.
- Contrary to common belief, you do need community. Self will power will only get you so far. I’ve opened up to pastors and friends but I HIGHLY recommend talking about this with a professional LMFT. Most of us don’t realize that porn is the symptom of something deeper, and being able to talk with an unbiased professional about the steps you took to get to where you are is an absolute must.
- Transparency and talking about this elephant in the room is one of the keys to disarming its power over your life.
Grace, Hypocrisy, & Staying In Your Lane
Grace is an interesting concept.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand it, but I don’t think I began to understand it until I was in a position where I needed to be the recipient of grace.
I spent so much of my life being a “wholesome” kid, that even though I sang songs and heard sermons about how I did not and could not earn grace, I thought in my head that I had most definitely earned it.
I’m way better than these heathens.
There is this really profound parable in the Bible that talks about this concept of grace and forgiveness. Basically, this one servant owes his boss a shit ton of money. We’re talking debt that makes a southern California residential mortgage look like chump change. After begging his boss to forgive the debt and miraculously having the debt forgiven, the servant returns home overjoyed.
He then goes to do what every person who has just had debt forgiven would do: he goes and demands this other servant who owes him something within the single-digit thousands of debt to pay him back in full. When the second servant asks for more time, the first servant has the second one thrown into prison.
When the boss hears about this, he throws the first guy into prison and it’s not a good time for him.
The point of the story, as I read it, is that we are often that first servant.
If you believe in God and His grace, then how can you not extend that same grace to those around you?
If you don’t believe in God, to fail to extend grace to those around you is to understate the grace you have been shown your whole life by family, friends, significant others, etc.
As I was training for the marathon in 2018, I went on a hike with some friends and the group decided to collectively sprint down the three-mile hike on the return trip. I had a feeling that this was NOT the best idea for me, but I decided to go along with the group anyways.
Literally, three seconds later, something got realllll fucked up in my knee, and I limped the whole rest of the way down that hike.
While painful, I learned a valuable lesson about going at my own pace and running my own race.
When race day came, I didn’t look at the speed or cadence of those around me. I knew my own body and I knew what pace I was going to be able to sustain and my one goal for that race was to finish it.
It would have been so dumb of me to offer running advice to other people running the race with me because it was just as foreign to me as it was to many of those I was running with.
If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know this:
- Extend grace to others often because you have definitely been and will continue to be a recipient of grace throughout the course of your life.
- Stay in your lane, learn about yourself, know yourself, and don’t quit until you cross that finish line.
Life is temporary, and it is sobering to think that some of us need a pandemic to break out for us to realize that. Of the laundry list of strange things that I think about, death is actually a frequent topic.
In the 26, almost 27 years of my life I have been told about God, encountered Him myself and attempted to reconcile a good God with an imperfect church and a pain-filled world. I know without a doubt, that if it wasn’t for Him I literally would not be physically here to write this today. I should have been dead most likely by my own hand.
And yet, in His grace and His provision I am able to write this and to share with you what I hope is encouragement in some way. This same grace is extended to you from Him, no matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done.
Covid-19 has made the temporary more obviously temporary and I hope that you take a second and evaluate what you value and who you are. Tell your family and friends “the things they already know.” Reconcile those long lost friendships. Don’t take anything for granted and don’t give in to the mass hysteria.
Peace, and hopefully we’ll get to the blog where I do the 2020 version!