Broken Vows

I wrote this piece for a bi-monthly spot I’m doing with Presbyterians Today magazine. It got a lot of response, mostly positive. I did get one piece of feedback from a friend that hit a nerve. This friend, who knows my story well, mentioned that I never said anything about breaking trust with the church. Yes, I mentioned my adultery, but I didn’t mention, to use another friend’s language, that I “violated a sacred trust”. At first the criticism felt like a knit pick, then like an attempt to pour salt in the wound. But they were right. For a truth to set you free it has to be a whole truth and a whole truth for me requires yet another hard look in the mirror.

I am a breaker of vows. I have violated the two most sacred trusts that have been placed in me, first to my wife and second to the church.  The ripple effects of breaking these vows is far reaching and it is almost overwhelming to think of the damage I’ve done. Despite all of the brokenness in the world, we value integrity and honor. I have not been an honorable man.

In a conversation this week, I was asked if I thought about the future consequences of my actions as they were happening. I said that I did. And the truth was that at the time, I didn’t care. I wanted to destroy myself.  It’s amazing how closely I’ve come to accomplishing that goal. It’s not just about destroying my family or disrupting my career. I destroyed my integrity. “A man’s word is his bond” my parents used to tell me. My bond is weak. I saw myself spiraling into a place where almost nothing I said was truth and even what was true I questioned.  I broke the bonds that held my life together and when they went, everything fell apart. There was no world left to maintain.

In my denomination, both ruling and teaching elders take vows in front of the community. I made vows before God and my community to care for God’s people, to serve with  love and humility, to be a good colleague and a functional member of the larger church. I failed on all accounts. To the members of my PC(USA) community, I am sorry. I let you all down. I broke trust with you. I failed to be the colleague and friend that you needed me to be. I failed to be a man of my word.

A friend took me to breakfast after my wife and I separated. I told her my story. As she listened, she said something striking. She said “I’m sorry”. Her apology was because she was in attendance when I got married and there were promises that the community made to care for us as a couple that she felt she hadn’t lived up to. I appreciated the sentiment. The truth though is that when I made my marriage vows, I made a commitment to my wife, my family, her family, and everyone in that room that I would be a man of honor. I failed. I failed that gathered community that was rooting for me to be a good husband and father.  I failed to be the man worthy of the woman I was marrying. To those who gathered that day and to the communities that surrounded my wife and I for a decade, I deeply apologize. You all deserved better than the man I turned out to be.

I’m doing a lot of rebuilding. I’m redefining what family looks like for me. I’m rethinking my career. I’m discovering a renewed sense of spirituality. From the rubble of my life, little pockets of reconstruction are emerging.  But the thing hardest hit, my integrity, that feels like a project  that will take the remaining years of my life. I deeply desire to be a man of integrity, a man of honor, a man of his word. I hope and pray that there is a man worth salvaging under all the rubble.

“At least I put on pants…”

“You’re not depressed. You’re just tired.”

“You’re not depressed. You’re just lazy!”

“You’re not depressed. You’re unambitious!”

“You’re not depressed. You’re not focused.”

“You’re not depressed. It’s just one of those days.”

“You’re not depressed. You’re just an asshole!”

I could go on. These aren’t things that people have said to me. These are things that my depression says to me. See, that’s the insidious thing about depression: it really would rather you ignore it’s reality so that you don’t do anything to take care of it. It also projects these thoughts on to the other people in my life. My depression would have me believe that I live in a world where no one will believe that I’m depressed because I look okay.

It’s only been a few days since I’ve been able to acknowledge that I have been in the middle of a depressive cycle. I’m not sure what triggered it or if was any one thing at all. There were a couple of key anniversaries this summer that may have done the trick, plus this past summer was both physically and emotionally exhausting. But it may just be that my depression crept back because I fooled myself into thinking that I was okay.

When I am severely depressed, I get a bad case of what Buddhists call “monkey mind”.It is a state of mind where the bran is “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. It feels like I can’t hold on to a thought. It’s not quite ADHD, but similar. The monkey mind is coupled with incredible self judgment around my scattered brain and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that I’ll always feel his way. It’s also accompanied by irrationally turning frustrated feelings with other people inward upon myself. “Why did So&So do that awful thing to me? Clearly, it is because I’m deserving of having awful things happen because So&So is a model citizen”.

One of the paradoxical aspects of depression is paralysis accompanied by fatigue. “Doing nothing is exhausting!” It’s the fact that while I’m “doing nothing” by brain is doing everything. Seriously everything! I have solved world hunger, written the next great American novel, taught myself several instruments, coached my team to the AFC championship (because even in my mind, I’m not good enough to win the super bowl), created several new culinary delicacies from things I’ve grown in my own garden (in my brain), written Star Wars, Episode 12 “The Force Considers Retirement”, had a crazy love affair/international tour with Norah Jones, Kate Davis, and Esperanza Spalding (the details are salacious), all while creating an urban, interfaith center for justice and organic gardening. This is about 45 seconds worth of thoughts on my average day.

I live with my depression. I am functional. I beat myself up for setting the bar low. “Well… at least I put on pants this morning! That’s a win!” Okay, maybe not that low, but to be honest, some days that is more of a struggle than I would like to admit. All experts will tell you that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness, it’s vitality, and it’s vitality that is lacking from my life. One of things I’ve noticed since being on meds is that their net effect is numbing. In the effort to numb my sadness and anger I often numb my joy and passion along with it. Brene Brown points out that you cannot numb the bad without also numbing the good. My natural defense against my depression is numbing until I can’t numb anymore then I crash… in any number of ways. I hate the numbing feeling. I fear the alternative. Emotions terrify me.

Mindfulness practice has become a part of my life. I meditate about 20 minutes a day with the help of an app called Headspace. I highly recommend it if you are looking into mindfulness. Being mindful forces me to sit with my feelings in a gentle/non-judgmental way. It slows my monkey mind to a degree. Meditation drags me kicking and screaming into the present. When I dwell in the past, I am filled with depression and regret. When I live in the future, I am filled with anxiety and fear. When I live in the present… I just am. It was in meditation a few days ago that I was able to discern my depression’s presence and sit with it for a bit. It didn’t make my depression go away…

…and that’s the frustrating piece. I don’t think anything will make my depression go away. Living as me means living with a depressive brain. I can cope. I can find techniques to manage during the day, but I’m never not depressed. I don’t mean that to say that depression defines me. I am more than my depression. Much more. But my brain has 35 years of programming that I am trying to rewire. That’s not an overnight job. It often feels very cyclical. Right now, I am at the bottom of a depressive cycle. I don’t know how long it will last, but I am here and attempting to live mindfully with it. I meditate, I read helpful books, I exercise, I put my hands in the dirt… those things ground me in my body and ground me in the present. Writing helps too. I celebrate when I have enough wherewithal to write a post. I celebrate when I have enough ambition to workout. I celebrate when I am fully present for my loved ones.

And somedays, all I can do is celebrate the fact that I didn’t leave the house naked.