A Tango With Taboo
In 2017 my life changed forever. I started down an exciting path that would eventually lead to pain, confusion, mental fatigue, and borderline depression.
If you had asked me 5 years ago what someone who struggled with mental health issues looked like, I would have given you the description a schizophrenic or homeless person who talks to herself.
Growing up in a small rural town of northern California, the only conversation about people who struggled with mental health issues was they are “crazy” or “really sick”. The thought of getting help for those types of people was far fetched at best. Only heavy doses of medication and hours of therapy could help them.
But living the past 2 years under constant pressure, stress, and failure has lead me down a dark road with consequences that threatened far more than just my financial well being. If you have not read my last post entitled, “Doing the Right Thing. Does it Even Matter?”, go and read it for more context as to what our journey has looked like.
The mental ramifications of 24 months of consistent mental and emotional stress are astounding. I will not liken it to that which soldiers experience in combat, but for me, it was similar to being tortured in a sound proof box. A prison where no one can see in, I couldn’t see out, and my cries for help dissipated like a cloud of breath into frozen air. Loneliness and frustration were my companions, they stuck faithfully to my side through every waking hour.
Being married and having kids during a time like this was excruciating. Their faces, voices, and sound of laughter would only serve to amplify my pain. I was thrashing in my own pit of quicksand. Looking back, it all feels like a dream. I was present with my family, but I was living with no hope, no purpose other than to survive. I was boarding on depression and that was not the only issue haunting my thoroughly fatigued mind…
The amount of debt I was in, coupled with the number of vendors I had coming after me, created not only anxiety, but also a sense of hopelessness. On my journey though this dark night of the soul, if you will, the battle for hope was the one I fought most consistently. With every word of bad news, every attorney knocking on our door, and every collections phone call, the battle waged on a little more. It was a tug-of-war for my soul.
Hope is truly an amazing concept: it is like a candle that can grow dim, or burn bright, and if you allow it, that candle can burn out. The moments where I found hope fading the most, were the moments I heard the voices from 3 main areas, calling out to me like long lost friends: alcohol, pornography, and suicide. And the longer I looked at my circumstances and tried to find a silver lining or racked my brain to manufacture a strategy out of my situation, the dimmer, and dimmer my light of hope faded.
I had to fix my gaze on something outside of myself, even more, outside of my current circumstance. Contrary to common thought, the answer was not within me. Yes, you read that right. I did not dig deep on a vision quest to find the answer within my heart. I had to pull my head up and look to something outside of me. I somehow knew that if I won the battle for hope, I had a stronger chance of winning the war for my soul.
So as hopelessness edged closer, and the voices of carnal vices boomed louder, I fought back with 2 powerful weapons: identity and gratitude. Yes, I was hearing the voices of addiction and death, but those voices had no part of me. I know that is not who I am. I know I have an identity as a new creation in Jesus, as an adopted son of God. I have life and light in me. So these voices were not speaking to who I really was, so I was able to turn them away and call them what they were, temptations. And temptations don’t give you identity, they distract you from who you are really meant to be.
The voices of pornography and suicide where not hard for me to cast aside, I had wanted no part of either of those. I knew the kind of destruction those create. But the voice of alcohol was more seductive to me. I remember the moment I realized I wanted another drink, because my body needed it. It was at that moment, I decided to stop drinking for a season. I had no desire to be controlled by a substance. That was not who I knew myself to be. So I did, and that voice of temptation left.
Daily as bad news was knocking at my door, I chose to be thankful anything I could. I found myself thanking God for my kids, for my wife, for the air I was breathing and for the food I was eating. Being thankful took my eyes off of myself and on to something else. This was key for me to not lose all hope.
I will leave you with one major lesson that I took away from my tango with taboo. The strength of your hope is dependent upon the strength of your identity. Because I knew my identity deep down as a child of God, I had a foundation to stand on in the midst of the toughest storm I have ever faced. You need to find where your identity is rooted if you want to have any chance of staying mentally strong through the unrelenting storms that life throws at us.
I encourage you to get alone, in a quiet place, and ask yourself who you know yourself to be. Are you a son, an entrepreneur, a father, a husband, a brother, or friend? If any of those areas of your life are threatened, will you be able to stand firm? Will your hope stand the next storm that comes?
As a father, I have a responsibility to stay mentally strong for my kids. And I know now more than ever, if I lose my hope, I will lose my mind. So where is your hope? It cannot be in money, status, or social media fame. All those things can disappear in an instant. Think bigger and seek it out and I promise you, you will not be disappointed.
I have to think more men are struggling with mental health issues than care to admit. It is not something to be ashamed of, but it is something to take action about. If you don’t have brothers or friends whom you can confide in, open up to somebody you trust. They can be used to remind of who you are. We cannot fight our battles alone.