Why "Red Harmonicas and Violins" A Preface...
The rhythmically impulsive, intimate melody of a sinner-saint's affections and love.
This first book I'll compare my story of recovery to my first car. At 17 and not a guy born into financial privilege, I was more concerned with what's under the hood than the color and shiny of the hood itself. If this book was a car, with what limited emotional resources I have, I just want to get on the road. I don't care if it's ugly in the beginning. Never thought cleanliness and a well detailed vehicle with shiny well polished wheels is close to godliness. I'd rather focus on the driving force, the engine, whether the oil leaks too badly or the pistons fired in a somewhat functional manner is secondary. If I get a spark "Yes it runs! Awesome!" is primary. Before I was ever concerned with pounding out some dents in the fenders or spending a lot of money on shiny polished rims. I would much rather start spending life energy on a well running engine then a shiny new paint job. Because if the heart isn't firing well, the stuck, shiny clean, well kept vehicle isn't going anywhere.
One big reason for writing this work is one of act of therapy to organize my own story and to hopefully love my wife as our story grows deeper and more intimate as we age together. Two different distinct, unique individuals living as one, as we feel some organizational liberation from my dark valley of shadows. Number two is to give my kids some clarity on what it must have been like to have someone like me as a father. They experienced far too many "Oh dear God I didn't ever want my kids to see me like that" kind of moments. So hopefully this will provide some explanation as to what kind of ride they were on. A ride they didn't sign up for and weren't in control of with me as a driver/parent throughout the childhood commute of their own stories. Hopefully they can see through the smoke of hard times. I pray they can see the light of love I have and did have for the treasures they are. How ever crazy it got when life was new to them. This book is a memoir in the hope of collecting and organizing some broken thoughts in a way of appreciating and understanding that however painful, exciting, sorrowful, thrilling, crazy and joyful the events in our lives can be, the connecting bridges of harmonies and rhythm really can have some real beauty if we let our ears hear it. Notes traveling like white blood cells moving through our body to ward off infection. I've seen storytelling and song heal people as it pumps the red through our hearts and minds.
I'm a person who spent the bulk of my younger years seeking out destinations that were thrilling, exciting and yes, even reckless. Asking "is there really a place where the wild things go?" Truth be told I'd settle for a place where the wild things can feel home rather then hunted. What you're about to read is a true story but the names have been changed some of the incidents in time have been altered and names of organizations I was related to have been changed or left out completely for the safety of my family and some friends.
As a young man socially, I sought out like minded travelers with an "I don't care" attitude, dreaming of ditching school and stressful work lives or at least navigating towards a fun weekend at full speed. I've always been attracted to fellow travelers that were wild, unpredictable and even a little more than a little crazy. Overtime I woke up to the fact that this vehicle known as my "being" got bashed up pretty bad and was just barely roadworthy. So, like an insurance agent assessing a car accident I started asking this fun seeking guy who's unbridled thirst for the next thrill, with an uncanny knack for bucking authority why he was speeding down roads of relationship struggles, poor impulse control and unwanted behaviors? Actions that sprang forth from my heart, a broken heart for, most of my life.
This is a road that I went down in my life. And as far as driving out of the storm of chemical romances, addictions and unwanted behaviors towards the daylight of freedom. I'm not claiming that it's the road for everyone. But this was most definitely my road. I've seen other people on different paths through my life and I don't want to sound judgment or critical but some of the other roads have stirred up anger in me and reminded me of people I've had to work to forgive. Honestly I have a hard time trusting the person who says "forgive and forget that's what I do". Like, it's being that quick and easy is even possible. Forgiveness and reconciliation are terms that take place in complex rhythms and harmonies of a relationship and I believe they would sound red if you put them to music. And when hurt finds it self in the arrangement the warning label for explicit lyrics most definitely will be appropriate. In saying that I pray you don't view me as a negative fault finder instead maybe a fellow traveler as the intimate rhythm of this road clicks on the miles like notes to a song. It's not my job to judge anybody as much as it is my job to be honest about this drive down the highway I was given to travel.
I tend to think in more of a emotional, layered story perspective rather than literary instruction mode. I'm not much of a text book, number 2 pencil kinda guy. Truth be told I think I'm in good company because some of the best teachers in my country will quote films like Star Wars, The Godfather and The Matrix like they are literature from Shakespeare or philosophy from Socrates. This gives me some comfort because I tend to learn more when hearing and relating to a story rather than someone instructing me what I should or ought to do. This book will and may include lines from films and lyrics from songs popular in my culture at this time in history. Of course I don't agree with everything the film makers and songwriters say. I know some religious people may fill with indignation and be tempted to play some guilt by association with me. Some may be affected by the imagery in some of these works of art but keep in mind the guy who wrote two thirds of the New Testament, the apostle Paul quotes a Greek poet to draw on a popular message his audience may be familiar with. (Acts 17:28-30). So, do I feel confident in taking the risk that I may be inflicted with some guilt by association? Well, they did the same with Jesus and the apostle Paul too, so I think I'm in some pretty good company.
As your tour guide on this misadventure I want you to know that right up front I'm not a professional psychologist, pastor, priest, theologian or headshrinker. As a matter of fact in the area of behavioral science or as a motivational life change advocate I would consider myself professionally unprofessional. I didn't write this book to be a theological, philosophical or psychological how to manual. I'm so not a professional or degree adorned philosopher, seminary guy or physiotherapist.
And by professionally unprofessional I mean this book is written from experience. I'm writing this book because I know what it's like to be stuck. I know what it's like to feel like not matter how hard to challenge yourself, after you said you would never do that again and then there you are alone in emotional anguish over the fact that you Did Do it Again! Again! Again! And a-freaking-gain! AAAAHHHHHH! Even though you promised yourself you wouldn't ever do that again. I know what it's like to have tears streaming down your face, feeling like an emotional wreck because you're out of control in your outward behavior at times. I know what it's like to feel like a sexual deviant, to feel like you're wearing a mask, because you feel like the disfigured soul behind that mask would be totally rejected if he took off that mask in the sun. I know exactly how it feels to say in your heart "I can't change, I've tried so many times and failed so many times". Feeling the is future bleak and like things will never get any better.
In the deep darkness of my drug addiction, criminal enterprises and sexual compulsive fever I was near suicide with all those thoughts and feelings like a heavy weight being set on my chest while I was in a floating in a deep cold lake in a small raft. Yes I know exactly how that feels, I've been in and survived that place. And because of the way I handled it in the past, buckling under the weight and pressure. Feeling like if I just let go and let me be the deeper me would arrive at the inevitable fact is the mask will crumble? I'm here to say it's painful but in the long run but it'll be OK. I consider myself grateful even blessed but even that carries weight too. I tend to ask "myself why me? Why did I survive and so many of my friends and acquaintances in the past are now dead or in prison?" All of these thoughts and feelings are a part of this ongoing, deeply felt conversation. I wrote this book because people do change I'm living proof. And so are you.
One of the biggest reasons I am writing this book because I experience more freedom today over that 500 pound gorilla known as my very stubborn sexual compulsions than I ever thought possible. I am alive and life is pretty cool, its not perfect it is still full of challenges but I am very grateful for the breath I take today. I have a realistic optimism towards the challenges and changes that I will inevitably face in the future. The truth is we all change, we ARE changing! Day by day hour by hour our lives are taking different right here and left there like a little blue dot on the GPS re-routes for new directions. And all the rerouting around the unexpected detours and road hazards we all face in this life, as we will and do experience change. It's inevitable and that change takes place on more levels then just the outcomes we see on the surface.
"It is what it is", kind of a cliche thing lots of people say at the time I'm writing this. What if it's not what it is? What if it looks like what it is on the surface but underneath something else? So let me take a little time to explain what this book is and isn't.
This book is birthed out of things I've learned during my own recovery, the things I've learned experiencing in my own heart change and a passion to see lives and hearts changed as well as the impact others have had on sharing the journey with me as I've experienced it through real, brutal, honest heart level transparency. It is also the product of interactions with listeners to a podcast I've been honored to be the host of for more than a decade. As a professional unprofessional I am in auditory learner, I'm dyslexic I have been since I was a kid. Dyslexia is considered a learning disability but the way I see it I have to wrap my mind around ideas in order to understand them. For most of my career or what us blue-collar folks would call "job life" (instead of professional life) I've been a machinist, manufacturer and a driver for a pizza catering business in the Seattle area and now I'm a full time Uber and Lyft driver. Over the last 6 years or so I decided to redirect some of that anger and frustration of sitting in hours of traffic into learning. See as a realistic optimist I realize my brain isn't wired way most people who excel at educational endeavors are. So I saw this time as an opportunity to learn without the constrictions of an educational institution. After all I was speaking to thousands of people on the topic of "addiction" I may actually want to get some instruction on what the hell I was talking about, right? Today thanks to iTunes U and YouTube I've been able to sit in the back of the classroom as I drive around the Seattle Metro area listening to some of the greatest English speaking college professors from some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. I love to learn but hated school and to date I have listened to around 400 hours of instruction, I have no degree, I have no college credits and still don't consider myself someone who is "educated". God knows I did not do most of the readings but maybe hanging around some very intelligent, creative people for the amount of time my ears have been, maybe some of their teaching just might have rubbed off on me a bit? As far as my grade as a professional unprofessional I'll let you be the judge.
Letting people into my story on the podcast was one thing letting people into my story in a book is something else. The funny thing is, I don't quite know what or why it feels more vulnerable. This is a big part of why I neglected it and procrastinated it for so long. But because of things I've said in the past publicly sharing my story to the masses has made a positive impact in the lives of others. I realize this could be a way of reaching more who may have or are on the same dry, barren desert, frozen and trouble-ridden highway that I have been on. Sharing that is how is feels to step out of ones covert zone. And another way to quiet the voices in my head that say, I'm too scattered, too stupid and too selfishly unfocused to put my story together in a book. There's a part of me that lives inside that says "this can't be done" and I'd like to prove that voice of self condemning condescension wrong. And I'm willing to bet you have an unkind voice like that in your head as well.
This book has 2 our 3 layers of understanding, Depending on your worldview and because of that hopefully it will stretch your mind and heart. This is not your typical book. I'm starting by posting chapters as a blog. And it's written by a self proclaimed disaster of human being who is not sure how it going to look when it arrives on the showroom floor. So with some of my fenders beaten back into place, bolts secured in their functional places, I'm not going to promise you miracles. But I do promise if you stick with me as your humbled and honored driver at the very least, I will take your heart and mind on fairly wild ride of honesty about whether people actually can change or not. Which one of these statements is true for example? People don't change, they can't. And people can change. In my opinion it's both. On one level our hearts are going to stay the same. And that's good news because we were all created as individuals with gifts and abilities housed in our unique personalities. On another level what springs forth from our own value of ourselves on that level can and does change everything. Again change is inevitable Think about it, do you still interact with the same people or invest the same amount of time in relationships as you did five years ago? Do you still have the same enthusiastic energy for the same music, films frequent the same places? Just a small example that things change and as a result everyone is changing as we adapt to our environment. So maybe the real question is, it's not weather we do change but how and why?
So, if you're ready, go ahead and sit down shut the door buckle your seat belt as we drive down a short what maybe thorny back road of what this book is not.
This is not your mom's "Self Help book". Truth be told, as I sought more life I realized the words "self help" may well be a big part of the problem. Most of what I've seen is classified as "self help" over the years could be bolstering an unhealthy superego or foolish pride where the bacteria of unwanted behaviors grows best in its optimum environment. Like that of mold in an old refrigerator, in the dark and cold.
This is not a "Christian Book". I am NOT here to preach to the choir. This book is not "family friendly" it deals in adult content and grown-up (or had to grow up to fast) situations and content. It's 21 theology. I consider this a book written by a Christian, about leaving a zombie like feeling of the walking, religiously dead to experiencing more real tangible life energy! Not a "Christian book" for only religious people to consume in the "Christian Living" section of the Christian book store. as a matter fact I would be very surprised if this book ever did end up in what my culture considers a "Christian bookstore". Yes, this book is written from a Jesus followers perspective. I'm not gonna to bait and switch you here, I am a Christian but listen, I'm so not here to sell you anything. I'm not going to accost you with shame, like the some vacuum salesman coming into your home pointing out how much dirt is still in your carpet, poking at how gross you are to live like this. And then, for his big finish sucking the dead skin off your bed, showing you the filth you've been sleeping in for years. I refuse to try and sell you "American Jesus" like the Christian faith is some guilt relief systematic apparatus. I find it offensive to view the Gospel as some kind of cold deal or shallow transaction you make with God. Like "buying in" is purchasing his consumable product meant to make your life "cleaner". If you are a Christian I can tell you from life experience and the books I've read by theologians as well as college lectures and thought-provoking materials I've devoured I've come to understand a certain delivery of information and ideas that are lacking a level of empathetic, emotional illiteracy. See I love Jesus and I have a real hard time with, what I myself have experienced as "us vs them" toxic religion. At least what western culture over the last few centuries defines as "religion". So don't let the C word scare you. If you encountered one too many cold hearted Christian living instruction manuals or If you have a problem with Christian's I don't blame you. I really understand those repugnant feelings. Yea, I get that, more than you know.
As far as the approach to overcome or get some kind of control over one's compulsive porn habit or out-of-control sexual behavior by way of a "follow the leader" process, keep this in mind. I have not and I am not seeking or have any kind of office in church or Christian organization's authority and/or leadership. This is not a book on how to be a better "Christian leader." Having said that I realize if someone openly talks about getting free from the horrific trap of a compulsive, habitual behavior like unwanted sexual practices you're going to naturally want to learn from that person.
I said on the podcast early on "I would hate it if people thought of me as some Guru." Then a listener reminded me that the word guru simply means teacher. So if you see me as "teacher" realize that I am not you, you are not me and we may not see eye to eye on everything and that's okay. It's how you and I define words like freedom, love and affection rather then me trying to teach you some lesson.
This is also not just a men's book for a Christian man's porno problem. It's a book for people. And as far as men and women are concerned, while there is a big difference in our plumbing there is less of a difference of in how our brains are wired for sexual pleasure then you may think. Today a growing number of women are seeking help for struggles with unwanted compulsive sexual behavior as well. This book is written with the realization that we are ALL sexual beings. We ALL have bodies with appetites that can get out of control and its not just us men. And not just religious people who "should know better." We all are people are seeking truth about those appetites regardless of race, sex, orientation or religious affiliation.
This is not a "step book" it's written with the realization of western culture's consumable "3 steps to this and 6 steps to that" instruction plans. Especially for us "I want a quick result now" people, who love to do lists. We feel if you put some hurdles to jump through, a list of things we can knock out we'll easily accomplish that and everything will be fine. Steps are great and look good on paper. But relational doors require turning and opening to a room closed and many times locked by us from the inside. Doors many times that lead to rooms of not just our own relationships with others but ourselves. It's pushing those doors open and experiencing for ones self whats on the other side. I don't expect you to muster up enough courage or faith to, try extra hard to push open those doors! A big part of this book is written to ask; What if those doors aren't that heavy? And, why are we are content to leave some doors shut in the first place?
This is not your alcoholic uncle's "A Long, Hard, Sad Road to Recovery" book. But I want to be careful to honor my brothers and sisters in 12 step groups as I've seen a lot of heart change and lives saved through that system. As for me, calling myself "Addict" would, be identifying myself with a very easy label I could stamp on myself and ware as a comfortable badge. A shiny do not disturb sign on one of those metaphorical doors. I would say "I'm an Addict" while I was in the 12 step recovery groups and I was... But "Once an addict always an addict"? I would think to myself; "Isn't, 'not being an Addict' the point of why I'm here in the first place?" It's breaking our habitual dependency is the reason were here. I get what Bill W and the big book were trying to do and I am very grateful for the work of 12 step groups do helping addicts find some new coping skills and life management. But for me calling myself an addict is an idea I reject. So while I may have flushed the idea that I'm "an addict" in psychological terms, in the theological I am a sinner by nature. Afflicted to be sure and that's different than being an addict. But it could be pure semantics as I sit in the 12 step group and stand up and say "Hi, my name is Russ and I'm an addict." Words have definitions that resonate in different ways with different people. And as a guy telling my story here you'll see I am very familiar with the topic of "disease". I don't believe the disease is the addiction it's self. In my experience treating addiction only on the surface with just behavior modification is like treating the symptoms of the disease. What if it's the heart that's diseased and the addiction you experience on the surface is a symptom of the real disease? If we treat the cough while someone still has pneumonia for example, how are we helping them in the long run? And listen when I say that I want you to realize that someone expressing their pain is not necessarily someone I'd label as a "negative" or a "naval gazer". The truth is someone expressing pain is remarkable. And that word "remarkable" simply means something emotionally, spiritually and/or physically noteworthy. Worth remarking on, Right? What's remarkable makes an impact which, can and does move things out of the heart, past the lip gate.
Maybe that's the artful expression of the heart condition Janis Joplin was pouring out about when she sang those lyrics so powerfully "just break a piece of my heart off and throw it away!" Or what Kurt Cobain was feeling when he wrote the song "rape me". I don't judge any of that.
Creativity is a conduit. It's harrowing beauty that comes pouring out of the hurting soul in the depths of a human heart. If I look back at some unhealthy experiences I felt in recovery groups entering in. I think there was a fear of a toxic attitude that may infect me. I would think to myself "wait, Isn't, NOT being an Addict the point of why I'm here in the first place?" Could it be a trap of the soul in a continual feeling and corresponding social dialogue of meaninglessness and despair? I don't know but the feelings there are real. Your and my sad stories are something worth talking about. Art is all beautiful part of what we are seeing externally expressed flowing out of what's going on in the inside. And as a social science geek I get the desire to keep talking about that which is noteworthy in a safe space amongst other fellow travelers. Why? Because when we feel in our bones and in our humanity it proves at some level were alive. And when we feel something we want to keep feeling even if it is feeling like an addict. It's the attitude that fights to stay dead I wanna shake up here.
So take heart! If you've experienced a group where "sharing" for the sake of healing and hope seemed to morph into some disturbing american horror show I feel ya. Been there and this isn't some existential, navel gazing, pity party book on how to endure your horrible fate. Hope meeting us in confessions taking place in safe spaces? Yes, and for me I like to think that's what David Bowie meant when he sang "put on your red shoes and dance the blues".
In this book I tell stories from my life but it's not a historical sort of biography like read. I don't just talk about events but how those events felt at the time. Through different stages of maturity boy, adolescent, young man you get the idea. Emotions in a book written by a Jesus follower ("Christian" as much as that word has been drug through the mud) there seems to be a lack of understanding of the correlation what we do and how we feel about what we do when it comes to what's real, tangible and true in this life. This is why I believe music has been so incredibly helpful in my life. The choice of the Evangelical movement's "rock 'n' roll is satanic" campaign in the 80's was such a horrible sad failure as well as a misrepresentation of the emotional impact of the music itself. Music makes us feel things and sometimes it syncs up with the way were feeling at a certain place and time. Guitars, violins and harmonicas have been played in compositions and in performance of sad songs. The blues are thought of when we think of harmonicas and crunchy guitar riffs. It had me thinking about how music has affected my life. The goodness of angry sad songs and songs about getting the gunk out of our souls. It introduced me to the thought and collaborating feeling that, what if the blues and early birth of rock 'n' roll, Country or rockabilly wasn't blue at all, what if it's red? And what if Red isn't metaphorically just the color of anger but the color of the life blood moving and pumping through the hearts of everyone of us?
Subtitle: The rhythmically impulsive, intimate melody of a sinner-saint's affections and love.