----Get Out of the Truck Already!----
“Why We Stay Broken-Down”
When we believe that reality is confined to only what we see, we become prisoners to our perceptions.
In the middle of every difficulty, arises opportunity.
When I left John 3:16 (a homeless shelter in downtown Tulsa), the early morning birds were announcing their awakening as the exhaust-like smells of downtown were filling my nostrils. All my belongings fit into the small, black strap-over bag my mother had filled right before she dropped me off and left me for dead. Everything I would have for the next year was in this bag: a change of clothes, some loose change, a necklace and a book –“The Purpose Driven Life.” Slowly walking to the Tulsa Day Center for the homeless, I felt like a death row inmate about to expire. John 3:16 kicked everyone out at 6 a.m., and I wasn’t ready to aimlessly walk the streets of downtown Tulsa again, not yet. Numb, my mind was emptied of thoughts, I watched as people went to their jobs, appearing unaware of the level of pain and nothingness that some humans—I—had to endure. Sitting there, staring straight ahead listlessly, I waited in line to get into the Day Center.
Then, on the sidewalk next to several of my fellow destitute peers, with my head resting on my black bag, it hit me: I was never going to get out of this pit! It’s over, being homeless, penniless, foodless, friendless, without a car, self-confidence or self-esteem had finally become too much for my wayward soul. It was all I could take; I had had enough of my family thinking that I was just irresponsible and that I couldn’t keep a job because I was too lazy. I mean, nobody could ever understand why I quit school because I couldn’t give a speech. They never realized that the real reason I couldn’t hold down a job was because I was terrified of the ridicule of others or that I drank to ease my anxieties, not just because I loved to party. This is it; I’m done...game over!
I would catch a bus to my mother’s house and find a way to end it all. After all, that’s the only place I could think of where I wanted to die … near my family.
Have you ever broken-down in the middle of absolutely nowhere—or anywhere for that matter? If so, then you know breaking down can be no fun. To begin with, you have to deal with the emotional breakdown that inevitably goes along with it. And that can be…well… a drag: “Why did this happen on the way to work?” “Why not on the way home?” or “Oh no! I left the jumper cables at home.”
A breakdown in life, much like one on the side of the road, can quickly go north or south depending on how prepared or unprepared we are for it. If you don’t have the right tools or, worse yet, you don’t know where you are, or, you have little or no help, then much like a breakdown on the side of the road, (as it’s possible you know) a breakdown in life can be devastating.
When I broke down while on the road to my self-actualized (ideal) life, I didn’t possess the right tools, or I didn’t have the knowledge of how to use the ones I did have. So I just stayed broken-down, for years.
Wrapped up in The “Why Me” Syndrome of life, I needlessly stayed on the side of the road for far too long – endlessly trying to figure out how to get myself out of a rut of hopelessness and despair. It was like the tools I had (ones I may have known how to use) were setting in the trunk and I didn’t have the key to open it. And like you might be able to relate to, I felt stuck in survival mode; I just kept running in circles around the same dead-ends, just trying to make sense of life, but really never getting anywhere.
What’s That Smell?
Why do we stay with people who cause us harm? Why do we stay in dead-end jobs? Why do we stay broken-down despite apparent ways out? I mean, let’s get real, who in their right mind would continue going down a road that they knew was a dead-end, and—at that—was even posted dead-end? When I’m driving and come across a big yellow sign that says dead-end, I turn right back around. I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep going –unless, of course, I’m going fishing, then the rules change–in that case, anywhere is game.
Evidently there is an alluring quality to constantly going down the same mental or spiritual dead-ends time and time again—after all, we all do it. What keeps us headed in the wrong direction when we have just passed a huge yellow sign telling us—in big, bold black letters—to turn around (besides fishing of course)? Likewise, what keeps us headed in the wrong direction in our lives when we are clearly headed for destruction? The devil…could be, but not likely; other people…again, possible (although a bit more likely), not probable; our conscious minds…again, not likely.
How about this, now stay with me here. While there may be several reasons for our constant circling around the same mountains, one reason we stay broken-down, and the one I want to drop anchor on for a bit, has to do with what are called secondary gains, that’s right—secondary gains. Secondary who you say? Is that that psychobabble junk, Jeff? To that, I would have to say...maybe. But, nonetheless, I strongly believe that one reason we tend to stay broken-down (or headed in the wrong direction) even when there seems to be a clear path to healing is because we are getting an—often times—unintended, but reinforcing payoff. A payoff that is, at the time, apparently worth more to us than our long-term health and fulfillment in life
To illustrate this point, and going along with the whole breakdown theme, take the not-so-hunky teen who is going on his first date with his high school’s potential prom queen—a real beauty! They plan to go to dinner and a movie, when suddenly, after dinner, the truck dies (in the eighties by the way—no cell phones). Johnny Johnerson, exuberant about his first date with this high school hottie, Suzy Suzerson, postpones getting out of the truck to take a look. You see…he is so caught up in her spellbinding looks and her intoxicating perfume (Oh that smell!), that he neglects to even get out of the truck to see what is the matter. (Did you spot it? The enthralling smell, her enchanting looks and the mesmerizing feelings associated with them are the secondary gains).
Knowing that Suzy has to be home by eleven and, at the same time, slightly doubting his ability to fix the problem, he stalls getting out of the truck. So the two stay in this broken-down, idle state for an hour and a half before Johnny finally gets out to do some serious investigating.
After he finally breaks out of his teenage, euphoria-filled coma, he gets out of the truck, pops the hood, and realizes that all that is wrong is that one of the battery cables has nudged itself loose. Something little, not-so-hunky, Johnny can fix after all.
Now your reason for staying broken-down may not be as invigorating or even as obvious as staying awhile longer in the truck with the captivating Suzy Suzerson. But, nevertheless, it’s there; needlessly holding you back—keeping you from living a life uninhibited by emotional, psychological, spiritual and all other forms of baggage.
I’m not a gambler, but—for you—I will make a wager. I dare you to get out of the truck and take a closer look at what could be the problem; I would bet that, like Johnny, what you find just might not be as bad as you think.
Later we will to take a closer look at the secondary gains in your life; you never know—what you discover just might surprise you—or better yet, it could set you free. It’s likely that you just may discover that these secondary gains are not worth you staying in the truck with the spellbinding Suzy Suzerson after all.
Whatever the payoff may be for you, I want you to grab hold of something here. Secondary gains serve a vital role in keeping your life stagnant—fueling the “Why Me” Syndrome in your life. They become a kind of silent motivator that “props-up” your need to stay unhealthy.
The term “prop up,” makes me think of a microwave I installed a couple of days ago for a project at my church called Clean Slate (a program that—at no charge—renovates schools, churches and houses for people in need; great outreach!). Well, I cut the hole for the back vent (a daunting task for someone who was only considered a master carpenter), my wife signed me up on the wrong volunteer form; she made me a lead carpenter—by accident. When, Jason (a fellow lead volunteer who I also think signed up on the wrong form) and I, finally got the microwave on the wall, we realized that without a support (or the proper support) this huge cooking machine would plummet to its death -with hast.
So we built a makeshift support out of a 2x4. We wedged it under the front of the massive cooking machine to “prop” it up until we could get further supports (the proper ones) to hold it in place.
Ok, what’s the connection here, Jeff?
What I want you to see here is that secondary gains are like that 2x4; they should not be permanent. Leaving that 2X4 support there would have obviously been dysfunctional. For starters, the enormous oven would not have gone back in its place. And if someone tripped over it and knocked it out of the way, the gargantuan microwave would be heating up no more spinach or ham and cheddar hot pockets.
You see…in life, if we leave these secondary benefits in place (helping us stay broken-down) we will never experience true freedom. Until we find real supports, ones that will hold us up for good, life will be a never-ending search for comfort and rest in all the wrong places.
Face the Gorilla
The school I work at is doing something with the yearbook; not sure what it is (given my reserved nature, I don’t usually have a front row seat to these things). All I know is that it has something to do with a gorilla. Every time they try and sell yearbooks at lunch, one of the yearbook members puts on a gorilla outfit and walks around with another student harassing the other bewildered students—and me. Maybe this increases sales; I really don’t have a clue—really. I always do lunch duty, but, as I said before, I am usually pretty unaware of things of this nature. But lately I keep seeing this gorilla and signs in the hallway that say things like: “The Gorilla is coming for you; watch out for the Gorilla, or watch your back; the Gorilla might be behind you.”
These signs posted around the school, have served as a vivid—not so pleasant—reminder of what happens to me (or any of us) when we try to escape the gorillas of our past. A wise man once said, you might as well “open the cage and face the five hundred pound gorilla; because—eventually—he’s going to come after you anyway.” In the same respect, if you hide from the real issues in your life, the very problems you’re trying to avoid will only get worse, and subsequently (as you will learn in chapter two) grow stronger and smarter in their hunt for you anyway.
At this point, I think it is safe to say that, essentially, avoiding trouble only serves to strengthen trouble. It’s like grass; you avoid cutting it…well, you get the point. In fact, as I am writing this manuscript, my lawn decided to have some fun with me. The in-laws and I went on a vacation to Michigan (a book in and of itself—trust me!) We were gone for a week and when we got back, I realized the grass did not have the same plans as I did: sitting on the beach, drinking lattes and enjoying the cool lake breeze. It took no brakes. It just grew…grew…and grew some more. And because I had chosen to dodge facing the gorilla before I left, I now had a whole mess of gorillas chasing me when I arrived home. For starters, because of the stress of cutting the thicker, taller grass, the mower belt busted. And not sure if you’ve ever had this problem, but after a couple of weeks of no love, weed-eating the grass around the house and along the fence line is like taking down a Sumo wrestler–with a stick. As you can imagine, this all made the job take longer than it would have had I just taken the time and effort to cut it before I left for the trip.
In the same respect, while leaving the secondary gains in your life in place provides some temporary comfort, over the long haul, it can create unnecessary, unwanted consequences. First, like a child who is never forced to leave home, the person who hangs onto these secondary benefits will further disable themselves from dealing with the real world, and at the same time, needlessly extend their recovery time. The longer they (and you or I) choose to cuddle with these false, seemingly less painful realities, the more slippery and steeper the walls of change become. What results is like the compounding interest on bad debt. And the stresses created by this avoidance, (as you might know) can reach unsettling proportions.
Run! Run! Run as you may—but you cannot escape reality. I like the way Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend put this concept into words in their outstanding Boundaries series, they say, “in an imperfect world, imperfection will always seek you out, and if you tolerate it, you will certainly find all of it that you can handle.”
Once, I heard of an old farmer who had, for years, plowed around a large rock in one of his fields. He had broken several plowshares and a cultivator on it and had grown rather moody about the rock. After breaking another plowshare, and reflecting on all the trouble the rock had caused him through the years, he finally decided to do something about it.
Putting the crow bar under the rock, he was surprised to discover that it was only about six inches thick and that he could break it up easily with a sledgehammer. Carting the pieces away, he had to smile, remembering all the trouble that the rock had caused him over the years and how easy it would have been to get rid of it sooner.
Much like the farmer, for long periods of time, we tirelessly work around the decision to change until “the rock” appears to be a mountain. Plowing around it, we whisper to ourselves: “this rock is too big, it won’t budge -it has settled in,” or even, “it doesn’t look too bad there – I’ll think I’ll just leave it.” Due to upbringing, genetics, or any number of other possible combinations of influencing factors, we consciously (or subconsciously) impose limits on our ability to change. And moving these “rocks” out of the way or, busting them to pieces with a sledgehammer seems impossible. These, oftentimes self-imposed (and sometimes not self-imposed), barriers to change can keep us in a broken-down state that renders us fruitless or, worse yet, they can hinder our efforts in reaching the full potential that God has designed for us all together.
Real or imagined limitations trap us in a whirlwind of inactivity. We naively think: “I don’t have the ability to change my situation”, or “I guess this is the way it is supposed to be”.
When you gaze into your future you might see a giant wall of hopelessness staring right back at you. But I’m here to tell you that what you see at the end of your restricted sight does not have to be the final resting place of your destiny in life. In like manner, how far you feel you can go in life, or how you feel about your chances of complete recovery from mental, emotional or physical anguish, in no way has to dictate the actual final outcome for you.
I’ll admit (and I’m sure you will agree) that some breakdowns in life (as well as the ones on the side of the road) are brought on by us; however, the vast majority of them seem to be unsolicited intruders into our everyday lives—events, that for the most part, we didn’t cause. Nonetheless, how we view these “setbacks” can greatly affect the extent to which we experience the “added” suffering of these already challenging situations. The way we interpret the “breakdown” (if in fact it even is a genuine breakdown) has a lot to do with how long we stay idle on the side of the road—perhaps drooling over Suzy Suzerson.
Somewhere—hopefully sooner than later—along your journey out of the Why Me Syndrome of life, you will discover (as I have) that one vital key to overcoming your problems, like the wonderful psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb tells us in his book Effective Biblical Counseling, “is not through a rearrangement of circumstances, but it, rather, involves a realignment of the mind.”
Take Ernie. “I don’t know his last name and honestly—I don’t care.” All that matters is that Ernie is an irritant – like one of those oversized, northern mosquitoes I killed while sitting on aunt Ellie’s mosquito infested porch in Michigan.
I was working as a mechanic to support my writing habit and I was asked to finish a job that a fellow mechanic had dropped. The mechanic, as they say, just fell off the face of the earth. Being hungry and “kind of green,” as my wife’s father labeled me at the time, I tackled the job.
Day 1 – looking bewildered, Ernie, while keeping the sun out of his eyes with his giant sombrero, in Spanglish, said, “I broke a bolt; can you help?” The years had obliviously not been nice to Ernie’s eyes; if his eyes were open, he was squinting. And I rarely understood anything he said, partly because of his Spanglish and, partly because I couldn’t stop staring at his extraordinarily dark, bushy Mexican eye-brows—I thought a flock of geese might fly out of them at any minute. Revealing his lack of mechanical skills, in broken English, he said, “I tried to change the water pump, but then I broke a bolt off.”
Only one issue with extracting the rest of the broken bolt; in order to get to the bolt properly, I had to take the timing chain cover off. Once Ernie caught wind of this, he decided we should replace the timing chain while we had the cover off.
Scooting through the door and ducking his head so he wouldn’t hit the door frame, my lanky, Jamaican boss, Rodway, declared, “Good idea.” With his hair poofing out of the sides of his hat (yes, he supported a hat too, only not as big as Ernie’s), he, affirmed, “Let’s change it.”
Day 2 - Ok, I admit, this was only my second time doing a job like this, but it wasn’t that difficult. All I had to do was line up the marks and “Voila” I was done – nothing to it.
As it were, I got the bolt out and put everything back together—with little trouble. And she ran like a champ! I mean, she started right up and purred. Bushy-eyed Ernie came with the cash and drove off into the sunset, no problems – yet.
Day 3 – Ernie and his poop brown F-150 come limping back to the shop, barely making it to the front bay when I looked over at Rodway, who was mumbling something to himself. “She’s running like junk,” Ernie said, “the timing must be off,” he persists. “That can’t be,” utters the humble, slightly timid, skinny Jamaican. “We followed all the correct procedures for putting it on.” “It has to be off,” Ernie replies, “my buddy, who is a master mechanic, says it has to be the timing; you guys must have put the chain on wrong or something.”
“Was it too short, or too long?” he asked with a hint of frustration in his voice.
Day 4 - Rodway and I, aiming to calm Ernie’s concerns and, also, aiming to figure out the problem, go through a whole battery of tests to get at exactly what is causing this brown beast of a truck to run so poorly. We check everything: spark plugs, oil level, air filter, starter…you name it; we check it. “What do we tell this guy?” Then finally we see a light at the end of the tunnel – the fuel pressure was none existent.
“Ernie…either you have a bad fuel pump or you are just out of gas man.” “We will go fetch a gallon of gas for you and see what happens.” We put the gas in and, what do you know? She fires right up again! The poor ol’ sombrero sporting bushy-eyed hombre was just out of gas! So, we send him packing.
Day 15 – A while later, we see his truck being towed right back to the shop. “The other mechanic still says my timing is off,” he commanded in his broken English accent. “This time, Ernie, you go fetch the gas,” Rodway said without hesitation. He came back, put the fuel in and what do you know—she fires right up again?
“Ernie you are just running out of gas man, it’s not a timing chain problem; it’s a running out of gas problem.” So we sent him and the brown beast off, yet again.
Day 17 – Yup, you called it! Same song and dance! I know it’s hard to believe, but the bushy-eyed Ernie and his poop-brown F-150 come crawling back in with the same problem. Only this time, Rodway (smoking at the ears by now), just left the truck out in the yard. “I’m just going to let it set,” he murmured.
To this day (months later), the truck has been sitting– still broken-down (or not). Still—in Ernie’s mind—having a timing issue, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. So, as far as Ernie is concerned, the truck is broken-down. And for him—IT REALLY IS!
You see, in life, things can appear broken to us, when in fact they might just be running out of gas. Like the timing chain issue, situations can seem hopeless, relationships can appear damaged beyond repair, finances can seem unfixable; people unreachable—when in fact, the solution to these issues, many times, may be as simple as filling the tank back up.
Most of the time our perceptions only allow us to see problems from one angle. Once I heard an adage that says if the only tool you have is a hammer, then, to you, every problem you face will look like a nail. When we are only looking at problems from one perspective we have a tendency to think that the solution we have in our head, at the time, is the only one. In Ernie’s case, the “one” solution was to redo the timing chain (which, according to the tall lanky Jamaican [and reality], was not gonna change a thing!).
In your life, the “one” solution may seem to be to get a divorce, or the only way out may seem to be to file for bankruptcy or, even, God forbid, to commit suicide. If this is true, one thing is for sure, you have picked up the right book. As we get into God’s word and you learn to surround yourself with the people of God and become closer to Him, I can assure you that you will develop new tools that will allow you to approach challenges from an improved, healthier vantage point. This will open up new worlds of hope for you, and also help you develop fresh ways of seeing, and subsequently, overcoming the challenges of your life.
I recently decided to get current on my student loans. I hadn’t paid on them for TEN YEARS…I know—that’s a long time! Because I hadn’t paid on them for so many years, I just knew for sure that my credit would be doomed forever. I had put off facing this gorilla for quite a long time. Trying to hide from the financial aftermath of my college days, I was like an escaped convict looking around every corner, making sure that this gorilla of my past wasn’t staring back at me—huntin’ me down like a hound hunts a rabbit.
Turns out, every day I avoided this, the thought of financial ruin—repeating in my head—grew stronger and meaner; further tightening the chains of lack and poverty around my life. As if that weren’t enough, the thought of already having bad credit, coupled with fighting a lingering depression, made it that much easier for me to accumulate more bad debt. This quickly turned into a financial tsunami, reeking total havoc on my financial and, subsequently, my emotional and spiritual worlds.
My thoughts continuously gravitated toward thinking that, regardless of my reasons for not paying—for sure—my lack of diligence in paying on these student loans for so many years would haunt me as long as I had breath in my lungs!
God and the reality of the situation, thankfully, had a different plan in mind—a plan my finite, limited mind was not allowing me to see.
A couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to go back to school to get my master’s degree. I knew I would need grants to help pay for school and the only way to get grants is to be in good standing with Fanny Mae–and the only way to be in good standing with her, is to be current on all student loans. Well, I made a phone call and the lady on the other end unveiled a way out of the mess that my restricted mind couldn’t fathom before. She said that a program exists where I could pay on the loans for ten months and after ten months of successful payments, not only would I be back in good standing, all negative effects of being in default would be wiped off of my credit report. “OH MY GOSH!…you’re kidding me,” you will let me pay it down—and ALL the negative effects are wiped off of my credit report forever … like nothing every went wrong?” “You got it,” she said.
That’s amazing! That’s getting out of the truck and realizing that all I need to do is fill the tank back up. That’s annihilating my old belief that there was no way out of this mess!
All those years—like Johnny not getting out of the truck or like the farmer not attempting to crush the rock—I was thinking that there was no possible way that I could make things right with Fanny Mae. As a result, I thought that my credit would be marred for all eternity.
I had allowed my perceptions of the situation to determine my behavior—which in this case was to do nothing for a long time (in effect, sitting in the truck with Suzy Suzerson way too long). Turns out, the limited, fixed perceptions I maintained of my ability to escape total financial ruin, kept me from seeking the answers that had been patiently awaiting my efforts for so very long.
You see, my mind had constructed its own barricade out of untested perceptions, and like many of you, my mind goes into default and becomes unaware that it is trapping itself in, blocking its own thoughts from escaping the thick barriers it has unknowingly erected around itself. Like me, you may naively conclude that as far as you can see is as far as you can go. This inevitably creates a “block” on how far you can actually go at the time; ultimately establishing a fortress out of faulty perceptions that you feel you can never escape.
Getting these debts settled has taught me to take a step away from and reexamine other situations in my life that have seemed to be dead-ends. I have since learned that a lot of times—if I will just get out of the truck—I may discover that things aren’t as bad as they appear—the tank may just need to be filled or a cable tightened.
Maybe you too have been the victim of a mental disorder, physical disability or, even sexual or physical abuse. Or, perhaps you have lost a loved one. At any rate, you have encountered a challenge that has assumed the driver’s seat of your life; taking you places you never wanted to go. Making stops at places you are unfamiliar with, places that are filled with experiences—that as a child—you never imagined you would have to face in this life. Maybe these challenges have taken you the long way home: passing by the river of bad relationships, or swinging by the sea of dead finances, or, perhaps, even driving through the fields of addiction and homelessness.
You may feel that certain challenges in your life are slowing you down or are keeping you from doing the things you want to do—leaving you helpless to change anything.
For years, I self-medicated, trying to feel my way into small moments of normalcy. What’s more, I didn’t trust my own ability to do anything about my problems. I thought I had tried everything that could possibly help me and nothing that I did was working. What I didn’t know, however, was that I had developed parameters that narrowed my way of thinking—eclipsing the good parts of my life that were yet to come. And, as Dr. Phil alludes to, my perceptions had created my reality. My own limited thinking had put a “ceiling” on how healthy I could actually become at the time.
The Lazarus Syndrome
As I was coming in for a landing with this chapter, I was thinking about what to write next. It seemed logical for me to go into how God will allow us to stay in a tough situation for some time in order for us to learn something—which I believe can be true. But then, as I was researching about one of the best examples in the Bible I could think of to illustrate this point of God allowing suffering for a purpose, I Googled the word Lazarus and Google auto-populated the words Lazarus Syndrome—interesting! That sounds like a night with coffee and covers, next to a warm, crackling fire (for me anyway—my wife would be next to the fire, but, surely, not reading).
Nevertheless, as I started to read about this rather intriguing phenomenon, I discovered what I was compelled to write about next. Not about how Jesus “stayed two more days in the place where he was” (John 11:6) when he had heard about Mary’s brother Lazarus’s sickness and, subsequently, his distressed friends and family. Instead, I felt duty-bound to write about how after all of our own failed attempts to resuscitate our lives, God can and does revive our very beings through His resurrection power (just how he does it will be covered later—for now, the fact that He does it will be our focus).
According to Wikipedia (I think maybe I should apologize to one of my college professors for using them—sorry, Dr. Adams) the Lazarus syndrome:
(Or auto resuscitation) after failed cardiopulmonary resuscitation is the spontaneous return of circulation after failed attempts at resuscitation. Its occurrence has been noted in medical literature at least 25 times since 1982. Also called Lazarus phenomenon, it takes its name from the Lazarus in the bible who, in the New Testament account, was raised from the dead by Jesus.
The website also states that,
Occurrences of the syndrome are extremely rare and the causes are not well understood. One theory for the phenomenon is that a chief factor (though not the only one) is the build-up of pressure in the chest as a result of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (or CPR as it is commonly known). The relaxation of pressure after resuscitation efforts have ended is thought to allow the heart to expand, triggering the heart's electrical impulses and restarting the heartbeat.
Never mind the causes, let’s take a look at some examples.
“One example is of a 61-year-old woman from Delaware who was given "multiple medicines and synchronized shocks,” but never regained a pulse. She was declared dead but was discovered in the morgue to be alive and breathing.” Another example of the phenomenon: “A 27-year-old man in the UK went into cardiac arrest after overdosing on heroin and cocaine. After 25 minutes of resuscitation efforts, the patient was verbally declared dead. About a minute after resuscitation ended, a nurse noticed a rhythm on the heart monitor and resuscitation was resumed. The patient recovered fully.” One final (I know) semi-creepy example the site gave of this phenomenon was of “a 45 year-old woman in Colombia who was pronounced dead, as there were no vital signs showing she was alive. Later, a funeral worker noticed the woman moving and alerted his co-worker that the woman should go back to the hospital.” (Can you imagine that one?)
Makes me think about how, after many attempts to resuscitate my own life, I appeared and even felt dead for years. I was among the walking dead men. I had almost perfect physical health, but my emotional and mental pulses were non-existent.
This brings me back to my story…
The Last Bus Home
I can recall the utter sense of hopelessness and despair as I waited for the bus I was sure was the last ride I would ever take in this life...anywhere:
“Maybe my ex-girlfriend Kari’s Dad was right...I am a freak. After all, I couldn’t go to the lake house for Thanksgiving that night because I was deathly afraid of having another panic attack.”
Emptiness was all I sensed in my being. My emotions were gone, like someone had snatched my soul out of my body and all that was left was an overpowering void; a nothingness.
Walking from the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless to the bus station, I entered a world, I believe, few ever cross the threshold into. Watching people as they stared into their future, I felt like I was the only object not moving in the entire world. Besides me, everyone had goals—one foot in front of the other; give the car a little gas; get to work on time; don’t be late; I need coffee. All the while, oblivious to a guy like me—college educated, bright and full of dreams—but nonetheless...homeless. Just another street-person cluttering up the backdrop of downtown Tulsa—“just another mouth my tax dollars have to feed.”
On my way to the Day Center, all I could think about was how I had tried everything: rehab, counselling, medications, books, churches, Buddhism, meditation, support groups–you name it, I tried it. All these things seemed to have offered only a fleeting moment of relief to my weary soul. “I’ve exhausted all my resources; and everything has culminated to this. My final moments will be spent on a bus ride to my mother’s house; headed for my demise.”
Then it happened!
With a bang, the bus broke down right outside of downtown Tulsa. We landed right next to some railroad tracks. The bus driver was directing us off of the bus when, suddenly, something peculiar happened. After being in the morgue of life for so very long—I noticed a faint rhythm on the heart monitor of my life.
“Maybe I don’t have to end my life,” I thought.
As I remembered years before taking my brother to a place that took in suicidal and homicidal individuals—I was one of those, but not the other—I noticed a flicker of hope. The place was called Tulsa Centers for Behavioural Health (TCBH). Maybe I can get myself over there and stay alive just awhile longer.
“One more try … I can’t help me, but maybe they can.”
“Load up,” the driver announced. The new bus had finally arrived and just so happens, while we were waiting to be rescued, I learned that the bus went right by TCBH. Myself and another homeless guy were waiting to hear the news. Eight hours went by and while lying on a bench outside the facility I remember ruminating, “If they don’t accept me, I will end it all; I will walk in front of a bus if that’s what it takes. This is my last hope.”
Then, as if God himself said the words...I heard, “Get your things, come in, you are accepted!”
The next week was one of the worst of my life. As if it weren’t bad enough that I had become mute, I had to deal with a schizophrenic patient named Zach who would sneak into my room at night and try to murder me. Then, after I thought I was going to be released, I made “friends” with Sarah—a heavy-set redhead that loved to play cards and eat animal crackers (man, we ate a lot of animal crackers at that hospital). I didn’t know where I would go if I was released; so I started making plans to try and stay with Sarah and her husband. She was released before me; and, I thought for sure, she, like everyone else in my life, would abandon me.
Well, Sarah didn’t abandon me and I did see her again; but it wasn’t on the terms I had hoped for. A day later, she was back at the center. This time, though, she wasn’t the same redhead that liked to play cards and graze on animal crackers; she now had this drab, hollow look about her. With concern I asked, “Sarah, what’s the matter, why are you back so quickly?” I noticed there were no more cards or animal crackers; she just stared off into space like some creature had possessed her body. “Jeff, I’m back in, well...for stabbing my husband!”
“That’s it. I will end up back on the street … I can’t take it!”
Then I heard about the dual-diagnoses program. Someone told me that the other part of the building was where the dual-diagnoses treatment program was and that the patients there could stay for up to three months. Wow! Three months, you mean, I would have three more months before they kick me out and I had to, possibly, end my life? The program sounded great; I wanted to apply.
“But, if I’m not accepted and, as a consequence, thrown back on the streets, I will end my life; I can’t take being homeless again—not this time.”
Walking in, chewing on a donut, and with his belly flopped over his belt, with a smile, Jimmie said, “I’m a recovering addict myself, doing supervision work here and I will be interviewing you today.” Jimmy seemed hopeful, but unconvinced about the likelihood of me getting into the dual-diagnoses program. There were only a certain amount of spots and hope wasn’t exactly radiating from Jimmy’s teddy-bear like body—leaving me still numb. “It will take a couple of days before they let me know,” Jimmie explained. I don’t think the powers that be (or Jolly Jimmie for that matter) understood that my very life hinged on their decision.
Then, after three gruelling days, I got the verdict. “Let’s do another interview Jeff,” Jimmie said with that confusing smile again. You see, with Jimmie’s natural smiley face, a person couldn’t tell if he had good things on his mind or if he just had a smile painted on his chunky face because of his propensity for smiling—or because he really liked his donuts. Most of the time I was mute, but when Jimmie came around—considering him the ticket to my life—I temporarily shook the silence. Sitting down after watching Jimmie annihilate another bear-claw donut, I realized that this wasn’t another interview; it was Jimmie telling me—I was accepted!
Getting into this program saved my life. It marked the beginning of my recovery process. During my stay at the hospital I decided to lay down my own efforts to cope with life’s issues and hand the reigns over to God.
After finally realizing that my own efforts to resuscitate my life were feeble, I discovered that God was the only one who could relieve the “built up pressure” in me. Also, I learned that the only way I could be right where God wanted me to be—flat lined—was if I gave up control. The, a full blown heartbeat was triggered. Allowing God to begin His work, while not easy, changed the course of my life. Makes me want to call Wikipedia and let them in on the new statistics of the Lazarus Syndrome: 25, to now 26 cases.
So come on, move over and get out of the truck already! You never know, what you find just might surprise you. Maybe, like Ernie, you have just run out of gas. Or, better yet, maybe, like Ol’ Johnny Johnerson, a cable in your life has just wiggled itself loose and it’s something that (with God’s help) you will be able to fix after all!
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