In 2005, I married the woman of my dreams, after being great friends for over 20 years. We combined families, moved into a beautiful craftsman home together, and thrived in a deep, loving connection. However, a short time after we were married, my wife discovered my lying, my secretive behaviors, and eventually my many addictions, all of which deeply damaged our marriage.
Getting help for deep-rooted traumas, addictions, and co-dependency was terrifying. I was still in denial and trying to hold everything together. For six months I participated in group and individual therapy and joined a 12-Step Program, but I made little progress and in many ways things got worse. The fear of losing my wife and family was too great for me to fully surrender to the healing process.
In 2009, after receiving an ultimatum from my wife and feeling ready to surrender to the process of recovery, I flew across the country and entered six weeks of inpatient addiction treatment. My first assignment was to write my life story, which stirred up memories and feelings that I’d been pushing down for most of my life. This included re-acknowledging childhood abuse and how it impacted my life. In my addictions to alcohol, drugs, pornography, and the Internet, I was looking for love but was really in a state of non-feeling. I wanted almost anything that would numb or medicate my anxieties and fears.
By the third day of rehab, I hit bottom and my despair and anguish came pouring out. Late that night I noticed a lighted plaque on the wall in my bedroom with a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.” As I read the words I cried uncontrollably and started praying: “God, please give me strength. Please please give me strength.” I looked into the lighted plaque and started to feel the light of God flow within me for the first time. I felt the strength that I asked for, and forgiveness as well. I wrote “faith” on my forearm to commemorate and remember this experience. From then on I started consciously gazing at light – whether from the sun, a candle, or a light bulb – and felt the presence of God as the light washed through me. My abyss of darkness now was filling with divine light.
Shortly after this experience, I was contemplating how much to tell my wife and others about the addictions and actions I was still keeping secret. “God, what should I tell my wife?” I stared into the sun through the trees, and I heard the answer: “Tell everything. Tell the whole truth. Leave nothing out.” This was the message I heard in my head, from a voice that didn't come from me. Given my fears, I never would have considered the option of being totally honest on my own. This direction was from a higher power. I knew the truth would set me free. This was my second revelation, so next to “faith” on my forearm, I wrote “truth.”
It wasn't long before I realized that I couldn't truly recover on my own. I needed to trust my community so that I could begin the healing process, so I wrote “trust.” Finally, before leaving rehab, I wrote “love” on my arm so I would take on my biggest challenge of loving myself and accepting love from others. Every day I rewrote Faith, Truth, Trust, and Love on my arm – these values I’d always wanted, but had such difficulty manifesting. These were also the marriage vows I had broken; now they became a new commitment to myself and those I cherish.
When I left rehab, the life I had known was over. My rehab counselor encouraged me to protect my loved ones by living apart while I continued my recovery, and so, with a broken heart, I decided not to move back home. Sadly, my whole social network began to fall apart. Even my 12-step sponsor couldn’t continue to support me because my needs were too different from his. I had to take this part of the journey alone, in a way that authentically addressed my own needs. Deep in my own grief and loss, I found myself having no real community for some period of time, although my recovery community did provide housing and practical support.
Spiritual Guidance and Community
I needed more emotional help; healing seemed unobtainable with my personal resources alone. I tried to “Let go and let God,” but was lost to understand what that meant in actionable terms. Up to this point I had been open to faith yet was very skeptical of organized religion of any kind. I had been baptized Catholic and confirmed Episcopalian, was exposed to Judaism as a camp counselor for two years, studied various philosophies, religious history, and transcendental literature in college, and earned a graduate degree from a Jesuit university. For all that, I felt little connection with God and never felt totally drawn to any specific faith. While trying several, I couldn’t buy into their rules and regulations, and I didn’t experience acceptance, love, or forgiveness. But I did cherish the values of community, service, learning, and spiritual practices, and now for the first time I had a newfound connection to God. Where was the community that would nurture these values while offering the spaciousness I needed to pursue my own spiritual path?
The answer came when I heard the “Interfaith Amigos” (a pastor, a rabbi, and a Sufi imam) talking on NPR about honoring all faiths and paths to God. A quick search on the Internet led me to the Interfaith Community Sanctuary (ICS) in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. There, the Sufi imam (Jamal) teaches a spiritual deepening class that focuses on Buddhism, Sufism, and Hinduism. Before attending his class, I fully disclosed my addictions to Jamal and asked if he would accept me into his church. I was overwhelmed with joy when he replied, “Of course! You are on a brave path, and I admire your courage. Come as you are. How can I help you with your journey?” That acceptance felt wonderful, and I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face.
There is a Sufi saying that when an apple turns red it can never go back to being a green apple. “But what if I’m a rotten apple?” I asked Jamal. With twinkling eyes and a brotherly hug, he replied in the words of Rumi: “You are a ruby in the midst of granite—how long will you try to deceive us? We can see the truth in your eyes—so come, return to the root of the root of your own self.”
This was the beginning of the next stage of my journey into wholeness. Jamal’s genuine faith in divine healing allowed me to have my own faith, tell the truth, trusting my community and work on loving myself and accepting love from others. Interfaith Community Sanctuary felt like the right place to continue my healing process. Until this time, a lot of my so-called spiritual work had been focused externally: co-dependently relying on others, looking for affirmation outside myself, and disassociating from my inner needs. I was looking everywhere to fulfill my needs, except within. This was because my “within” was fearful, fragile, and insecure. It was all the darkness that I didn’t want to face.
To be able to say “I can’t do this alone” is part of attracting a loving community. At Interfaith Community Sanctuary, I found an authentic spiritual community in which I could continue to grow and share. At church services, community events and in Jamal’s spiritual deepening class, all are encouraged to witness and support each other. Being listened to without judgment is healing in and of itself. Being with a group of people on a common spiritual, healing journey and working on the same types of issues is quite beautiful.
During group meditation and chanting, I came to understand that I needed to focus on my own inner work. It had nothing to do with my job, my wife, my family, or anything else. In that quiet, reflective space I addressed my own issues, learning to love myself and accept love from others. That was absolutely the hardest thing to work on, and yet the Sufi approach helped me develop my inner strength and inner light. Five techniques were especially helpful for me: sanctuary, circle of love, sacred holding, inner child process, and divine aspirations.
My Sanctuary is a factitious place that is like an oasis from the rest of the world. It is a mountainous, tropical scene with bird sounds, fresh air, bright sun, and water. This space is my cathedral, where I feel most safe, where I can be at peace, and where I can truly express myself.
Into this sacred space, where I can have faith, I invite my Circle of Love: souls who love the truth, people I trust and who love me unconditionally. Thus, my Sanctuary and Circle of Love correspond to the four themes I wrote on my arm during rehab: faith, truth, trust, and love. During therapy my inner work here was to accept that unconditionally loving, trusting relationships can exist. My initial affirmation used in sanctuary was “Dogs and stuffed animals love me unconditionally.” This was an affirmation from when I was much younger, so I could enlist the fantasy feelings of unconditional love that I experienced as a child to be part of my healing now. But it didn’t feel like a fantasy in my sanctuary, where I allowed myself to shift from knowledge of the head to knowledge of the heart. I had always thought that fantasy must belong only outside of my body. With this work, I was able to recognize and nourish a space within my heart that already existed, that was safe, that had unconditional love. My first experience in the Circle of Love was the first time I ever cried with my eyes closed. It really felt like the deep healing was coming through.
Sacred Holding was also powerful for me. I have an old pattern of denying “bad” emotions such as anger, fear, and frustration, but now that I have learned emotions are just sacred energies longing to be kissed, I want to own my feelings, actually lean into them and validate them rather than running from them because I think they are bad. When I anticipate that a phone call might convey rejection or confrontation, for example, I let the call transfer to voicemail so I can take time to process my fear. I just let it happen. I locate where in my body it is and just stay with the feeling, breathing through it without judgment. This process helps relieve a knot of anxiety in my solar plexus. If I can acknowledge it and breathe through it, the knot unclenches, relaxes, and dissipates.
When I first did Inner Child Process in a group setting, it was scary. In my relationship with myself as a child I was my own worst enemy. I had labeled myself a troublemaker, and upon seeing this inner child come toward me I felt disconnected and unsympathetic. He was like a crocodile, not wanting to be held. But there was something within me that kept reassuring him, letting him know that he is loved. “You are accepted,” I said. And I asked him what he needed to say. “Love me. Help me,” he said. Eventually, I was able to hold him and envelop him. This was a powerful way to recognize and reconcile this dynamic relationship within myself.
The practice of creating and reciting a Divine Aspiration was an important part of my healing process. Working to discern what I really wanted to have happen in my life helped me clarify my intentions and inspired me to strive even more consciously to achieve a positive outcome. My aspiration included deep healing for my wife and me, and reunion with my wife and family based on truth, trust and love if that is meant to be. After I recite my affirmation, I always add “This or something even better is manifesting for me now.” I do believe that God’s will is manifesting for me now, and I am becoming less attached to whatever that outcome is.
I’ve accepted that this is a life-long journey, knowing that doors of opportunity are opening continuously. By doing the inner work and opening up to God’s light within me, I am now doing the inner work of “opening and polishing my heart” through an ancient tradition called Astaghfirullah. Translated, it means “asking God for forgiveness” so that I can accept and love myself.
I’ve come to believe that faith, truth, trust and love have always been a strong center of my being. They were just locked up in the dark caves of my soul, wrapped in a ball of anxiety, hurt and fear. I have since tattooed these words on my arm so that they’re now a part of me. I’m inspired to live these values in every moment.
I no longer live in Seattle and yet I still feel strongly connected to my community at Interfaith Community Sanctuary. I moved to Europe and am exploring new interfaith communities while keeping close ties to my friends in Seattle. Recently I ran with a group of 50 interfaith runners in a half marathon in Luxembourg that was sponsored by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
I’m finished writing my story, and yet my journey goes on. I received the dissolution of marriage petition as an email from my dear wife Jo. Even as I sign the documents, I pray for my divine aspiration: the deep healing for my wife and me, and reunion with my wife and family based on truth, trust and love if it is meant to be. Then I let it go. This or something better is manifesting for me now.