He became his father and lived to know his pain firsthand
I was eleven years old the night I was awakened by a woman’s screams and the thud of a body slamming into the other side of my bedroom wall. That sound is distinct and sickening, etched into my auditory memory to this day. Anyone who has heard it knows what I mean. My father was again attacking my mother in a drunken rage. The ferocity of this attack and the stark terror it evoked in me seemed to cripple time, causing it to limp by in surrealistic slow motion. His voice was inaudible. I heard only the pleadings of a battered disheveled soul above a chorus of breaking furniture and glass.
The police arrived after she managed to escape. They were prepared to set things right. It took four of them to subdue his five foot seven inch frame. After cinching the handcuffs on his hands and feet together with a telephone cord ripped from the wall during the melee, they carried him face-down out the front door while he kicked, taunted, and cursed them like a wild man.
That was the last time I saw him alive. The next morning a different set of officers arrived with a brown paper bag filled with his belongings. They said he had hung himself while in custody. The death was always questionable. There were no ligament marks. All that was clear was that he died of asphyxiation. One could only speculate that things got out of hand and were over too soon. What was done was done.
This experience enabled me to understand that great love, intense hatred, and deep pain could coexist in the same heart–my heart–at least for a while. By God’s grace and loving spirit, good instructional AA sponsorship, therapy, and in-depth inventory work, I’ve been able to find a loving place inside for my father. Because I became him, I lived to know his pain firsthand.
Fast forward to a little past my seventh year anniversary in Alcoholics Anonymous. I believed that I worked and lived a good recovery program, but God has a way of lovingly revealing my limitations at the precise moment I need to see them. A new man who asked me to shepherd his journey out of hopelessness approached me, and I agreed to share my experience in recovery. In a very short period, it became apparent that, in addition to his alcoholism, he suffered another debilitating affliction. He was molesting his stepdaughter. As I supported him through his pursuit of outside counseling and intense Step work, I came to a startling revelation. The similarities to the alcoholic craving, the utter powerlessness and the cutting remorse that he suffered, were familiar to me because of my alcoholism. It gave me an in-depth understanding of this terrible shortcoming that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
This man did work successfully to move to a place of peace and serenity, and I’m happy to say, no longer suffers from that terrible malady. Little did I know I would have to face the same situation up close, in my own family.
My daughter’s mother married a man who I suspected and later confirmed was molesting my child. I was immediately seized by my old nemesis, self-will. The violent hard coding of my childhood rose from its shallow grave and grabbed its companion fear by the hand, to insure a chaotic end. Together with these two cohorts, I plotted a way to exact revenge on this man. I arranged to meet him in a restaurant, where I planned, with wanton disregard for myself, my daughter, or anyone or anything else, to murder him in broad daylight. I was overwhelmed with a fanatical rage, Godlike self-assurance and burning self-righteousness. Inwardly, I was completely out of control. As the clock raced toward the appointed time, I grew more venomous. I knew what I planned to do was utterly insane and in direct opposition to every good thing I had learned in my years of recovery, but I couldn’t reverse the emotional train. Shrouded by demons from the past, I felt chained to my old broken solutions, the ones that had always failed me so miserably all my life. I had swallowed a man-sized gulp from the deadly bottle labeled “I am my own god.”
I called my sponsor repeatedly to no avail. He was not home and the phone just rang and rang. One by one, I went down my list of trusted AA friends and family. I could reach no one. Increasingly unable to bear the hideousness of my evil plan, I fell forcefully to my knees under the sheer weight of it.
I asked God to help me–to once again dive deep within my heart and extract the treasure he had placed there before I came into existence. I don’t know how much time passed, but the information bombarded me in a steady stream. I reflected on the pain I had suffered from the violent loss of my own father and how those police officers, family members themselves, were only trying to stop the alcoholic aggression in him. It was because they were human, bound by the limits of humanity, that they needlessly took much more. They took a wife’s husband, a mother’s son, a sister’s brother, a nephew’s uncle, a best friend, and a little boy’s father. But God, because he is God, has the power to remove the hurtful behavior in a man or woman with surgical precision, and leave the rest of that person intact. When man tries to remove a defect, he is clumsy and inefficient and wasteful. When I play God, I take much more than I ever intend to take, and I leave nothing but pain, suffering, and finality.
When I play God, I incite others to revenge and create a deadly repetitive cycle that has the potential to poison generation upon generation.
Through my tears I thanked my God for recovering me from my hopeless state of mind and body, for allowing me to experience the anguish of my father’s untimely death, and for the gift of observing the release of my AA friend. But more than that, I thanked my God for boldly stepping into the depths of my depravity with open loving arms ready, willing, and fully prepared to straighten my life out again.
My father’s aggressive violence and later my own, which matched, if not exceeded, his, was not right in God’s eyes. Hurting a child, or any other human being for that matter, verbally, physically, sexually, or emotionally to any degree is never, ever right or good. That behavior is never acceptable, but God’s children always are. Without question, my whole attitude and outlook on life was changed in a matter of seconds. Permanently, irreversibly, inexplicably changed. One day at a time and when we have the willingness to ask, we receive peaceful insight in abundant measure no matter how our journey unfolds, no matter how far we have fallen, no matter how desperate our circumstances, both before and after sobriety. That is God’s solemn promise to us all.