My Existential Story


My Life Map/Life Stages (Family of Origin Summary

Maelstrom: The Early Years (1987-2001)

  • 1987- Birth.
  • 06/1990- Twins are born.
  • 10/1992- Dad’s mining accident.
  • 1993 to 2001- Dad in and out of jail, raising little bro and sis on my own, drugs, alcohol, fighting, neglect, witnessing emotional/physical abuse.
  • 02/2001- Mom overdoses on OxyContin.
  • 03/2001- Older sister gets custody and go live with her.
  • 12-21-2001- Little siblings and I go to Mt. Mission (Court mandated)

Vexation: The Teens (2002-2008)

  • 02/2002- Baptized with siblings.
  • 05/2002- Failed 8th grade.
  • 05/2004- Failed 9th grade.
  • 11/2004- First love, Sydney. Broke up in 06/2005 and was crushed.
  • 11/2005 to 07/2007: “The Maranda Era”, Maranda was my first actual relationship. I’m who I am because this woman believed in me.
  • 05/2008- Graduate high school at 21 by the skin of my teeth.

Oppugner: The Early 20s (2008-2010)

  • 08/2008- Begin freshman year at JU.
  • 11/2008 to 12/2009- Existential crisis of faith, agnostic, wrestled with basic faith issues and belief period, church drop-out, and planned to leave JU.
  • 01/2010- Return to JU, change programs, discover sense of peace.
  • 01/2010 to 02/2010- Meet Courtney and begin dating.
  • 04/2010- First visit to Episcopal Church.
  • 09/2010- Confirmed Episcopalian.

Existential 20s: Mid to Late 20s (2010 to present)

  • 10/2010- Courtney confirmed Episcopalian and we get engaged.
  • 04/13/2011- Courtney, while in grad school, attempts suicide.
  • 05/21/2011- get married.
  • 07/27/2011- we separate.
  • 09/2011- Court moves out; I move back to the dorms. Begin individual counseling.
  • 09/2011 to 01/2012- Sought marital counseling, reconcile, move back in together in Jan.
  • 01/2012 to 12/2012- Period of peace and some good memories.
  • 12/07/2012- Pawpaw dies, first experience of death. Preached at his funeral.
  • 02/2013- Denied from JU’s grad program.
  • 02/03/2013- Christmated into Orthodox Church.
  • 05/03/2013- Graduate JU, first in family to graduate college.
  • 10/2013- Courtney attempts suicide again, hospitalized 3 days.
  • 12/2013- Courtney still suicidal, begins 8-week extensive program.
  • 02/2014- Fired from job.
  • 03/2014- Have to move in with in-laws.
  • 04/2014- ADHD diagnosis.
  • 05/2014- Separate and pursue divorce against my own desires.
  • 10/2014- Discover my chronic shame, spiritual awakening/breakdown.
  • 01/2015- Divorce finalized and begin graduate school. New beginning.
  • 07/2015- Mom dies.
  • 01/2016- Dad dies.
  • 01/2016- Meet Emily, my soulmate.
  • 07/2016- Emily and I get engaged.

“Life is how it is not how it was!” -Bright Eyes

I like to think of my family of origin in the context of story hence my Family of Origin Story.  We all have a family of origin that we did not get to choose.  We all are born into these stories that are being written, whether good or bad, that are filled with complex characters, twisting plots, climaxes, and resolutions.

We all have stories to tell that are rooted in the beginning of our lives with the family we were given.  These stories can shape and define a lot about us, but ultimately the narrative is ours to write regardless of what the family has written.  Dr. Brene Brown once said:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

We all have a story to tell. Here’s mine:

I have an older sister, Amanda, who is 37 with a family of her own now.  I am the second oldest, and I am 29.  Then I have a little brother and sister who are twins, and they are 25.  Our parents were good parents, but in 1992 things went downhill.  In October of 1992, my dad was covered up by a rock in the coal mines.  He survived, but by the grace of God. He was in and out of hospitals and had multiple surgeries.  It was there that he developed an addiction to the pain medication coupled with alcohol abuse.

Now, before this my parents were never addicts.  They smoked pot and drank while in high school and occasionally afterwards.  While my dad was recovering from his accident he became addicted and thus got my mom into his addiction too. Then in 1995 he got busted for selling pot.  For the next 8 to 10 years, he was in and out of jail for various things; he was an alcoholic and spent time in jail for various DUIs being one.

While he was in jail we were left with our mom, who was always gone.  My older sister had already left home and had a baby when she was 17 and a senior in high school.  My mom was always out late getting drugs and would stay gone for hours while it was just me and the twins at home. One can see that at a very early age I was forced to grow up and become the man of the house; I was a parentified child.  In many ways, I raised my little brother and sister at a developmental age that was not appropriate for such a heavy responsibility.

When my dad was out of jail, the various times that he was out of jail, he and my mom would fight; their marital quality was never satisfying or healthy in my opinion.  Their fighting always got physical. My younger siblings and I would just shut ourselves in a room and cry while they fought it out sometimes even on school nights.  There were times when there was not a lot of food in the house because our parents wasted it on their addictions to drugs and alcohol.

In 1998, we lost our house because my mom had not been paying the payments, so we moved into a trailer park in Lebanon, VA, where we were growing up.

Now this all went on for years.  The same old cycle over and over.  My younger siblings and I just looked out for one another.  I tell you this because it is just the introduction to how things got worse and my spiritual journey has come about due to all of this.

February 8, 2001 is a day I can remember like it was yesterday.  I had in-school suspension that day for cutting up in class, and I had gotten sick.  I checked out of school early that day and spent the rest of the day at home.  My dad was out of jail at this time.  Later that night my younger siblings and I were at home with our dad passed out drunk in the living room, and our mom was at some neighbors.  Then came a knock at the door, it was our friend Jesse. We answered it and he said, “Your mom is lying dead in Dee’s kitchen floor.”

We woke up our dad and rushed to find her overdosed from an 80 milligram OxyContin that she had injected in her foot with a needle.  She had stopped breathing multiple times but the people there had brought her back.  I just got my little brother and sister out of there because they were crying and really scared.  Eventually, the EMTs arrived and took her to the ER.  Meanwhile, I called my older sister and she came and picked us up.  The next day we went to visit our mom at the Detox Center.  Then my sister petitioned the court to let us stay with her, and the court granted her a month of physical custody, and then we returned to live with our parents.

One day my younger siblings and I were out playing while our parents were not home.  My little brother had falling into a creek and had gotten a little wet, and I sent him home to change.  When he got to the house there was a police officer looking for my dad to serve him some papers.  He noticed my brother was wet, and that we were without supervision.  He rounded us all up and took us to social services.  That night we spent the night in a foster home and it was the worst night of my life.  I laid awake worried about my little brother and sister and our futures as my little brother cried himself to sleep beside me.  Thankfully, my older sister had been reached and the next day we were given over to her in a custody hearing in court.

Things started to be better when we started living with our sister who had two kids of her own. However, it was not too long before things between she and her husband started getting out of hand, and the fighting physically had started between them.  My sister was stressed out and put on Klonopin.  She, too, became an alcoholic.  She and her husband had committed infidelity just as my parents had.

In October of 2001, my brother-in-law found out that she had been cheating on him with her high school boyfriend; the fight was so bad that law enforcement was called.  My dad was in jail again during this time.  We had to go to court again and the court gave us time to find somewhere else to live because my sister was to lose physical custody.  At first it looked like we were going to a foster home, but a couple in my church told us about a place called Mountain Mission School.

Amanda put in applications to get into Mt. Mission which is a home, school, and church for children in situations like the one we found ourselves. So, we went and took a tour of Mt. Mission and applied. We got accepted due to our dire situation.  On December 21, 2001, we left home and moved into Mt. Mission away from all the domestic violence to which we were being exposed.

I had been “saved” when I was a little boy, but I had never been baptized.  Two months into being at Mt. Mission my younger siblings and I got baptized.  It was February 6, 2002, two days before a year of my mom’s overdose, that my younger siblings and I accepted Christ and were baptized.

I was in 8th grade going into Mt. Mission, but due to my own stubbornness and refusal to do my homework I failed the 8th grade that year.  I passed the next year and went on to 9th grade.  Then I did the same thing again and failed the 9th grade.

While at Mt. Mission I fought and fought the staff.  I was disrespectful and caused problems; I had a chip on my shoulder.  I was a very, very angry and bitter young boy; I felt wronged.  I was hurting.  I hated Mt. Mission and wanted nothing more to leave, but things at home were still the same and even worse.  My older sister had gotten drunk and wrecked her car with her kids in it.  She was then enrolled in Teen Challenge of Chattanooga.  My brother-in-law got the kids and was still into drinking and doping too.  My parents were still the same, so I had no way out; I had to tough it out at Mt. Mission.

I do remember a few years after being there one Sunday a staff member spoke about being broken by God.  He had us pray at the end that if we wanted to be broken by God to pray along with him, to pray that God would take over our lives and break us.  He warned that if one prayers this prayer that God would follow through; he was right.  It was there that God began to slowly get my attention.

My sophomore year I was 18, which is about the time I said that prayer.  That year was a tough year for me; but 19 came and it was tougher.  I had been dating a girl I loved for about 7 months.  I turned 19 on May 11 of 2006 and a few weeks later on June 3 I had to have surgery for a ruptured appendix.  I was still at Mt. Mission, but was at home for summer break, so I stayed with my mom.  She had an apartment that my dad and she had gotten together, but in April of 2006 he left her for another woman and divorced her.

He had gotten out of jail that prior December; he had been somber and was doing right. However, my mom was just fighting him and being uncooperative.  She stayed messed up and drunk all the time.  He wanted out of that, so he left.  He was sober for about 3 years.  When I was sick I stayed with her, and she would get so messed up and just make me so mad.  I was still bitter and angry about a lot of what they had put us through.  My girlfriend Maranda had broken up with me, and that had just made things worse.  I headed back to Mt. Mission that year for my junior year very angry and bitter; I goofed off more in school that year.

Later, in the year I began to realize, because of Maranda, that my anger and bitterness was pushing those I love the most away from me.  God had used her to show me that.  She and I got back together for a little while longer, and she helped me a lot in those months.  I learned a lot from her that is for sure!  I ended up being in jeopardy over becoming a senior, but due to the president’s grace they let me be a senior with certain requirements.

While I was 19 God got a hold of me.  He showed me that I was pushing people away, that I was copping out, and that I was throwing my life away while at the same time distancing myself from those to whom I wanted to be close.  Thankfully, he sent me people like Maranda and the staff at Mt. Mission to love me and show me what I truly looked like.  They loved me through it all.

My senior year of Mt. Mission came, and I worked hard all year.  On May 30, 2008, I become a very proud graduate of Mt. Mission School.  I guess one could say I have come a long way, but God had to kick me along at times.  Since graduating from Mt. Mission, I graduated from Johnson University with a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership becoming a first-generation college grad.  I have also completed over two years of graduate studies in counseling becoming the first person in my family to also obtain that goal.

I have had a lot of disappointments in my life, but as you can tell from reading this my biggest has to be my childhood.  My father went back to drinking for much of his time on this earth before he passed away.  I learned that he was hurting from the hurt his father who caused him.  His father was an alcoholic and his mother was strung out on drugs, so, like my mother, he also experienced a lot of abuse growing up.

I have never had a strong father figure in my life.  This is probably the biggest disappointment out of them all.  It hurts me very deeply how much my father, and mother, hurt while alive.  I tried to think of ways to help them, but perhaps seeing my family in shambles and growing up the way I did is what has driven me to want to be licensed professional counselor.

I pray for my dad.  He was a hurting man filled with fault and weakness.  It hurts me deeply!  I wish my father and I could have had a relationship.  I had to cut myself off (cutoff) from him and my mom because I felt I could not allow that behavior and those dysfunctional sets into my life too much.

My mother, despite her previous drug habits, was sober in her last years and had removed herself from our hometown.  She lived in an apartment in Abingdon and for the most part did quite well once she began avoiding relationships that were situational stressors for her.  She, too, grew up in a dysfunctional family with an abusive father who left.  She endured physical/sexual abuse.

I have come to be more compassionate and forgiving of both of my parents understanding what they endured and the shame with which they struggled.  I have been deeply hurt by their failure as parents.  It is not easy to forgive and move on from such pain, but learning to empathize with their pain and why they were the way they were has made me more compassionate and understanding.

My mom and I had somewhat of a relationship too, but I was not very close to either of my parents.  I have learned that distance and cut-off are two bad relationship patterns that bring a temporary sense of healing.  I grieve, along with my siblings, the sudden departure of our parents from this world in the last 16 months.

I have had to go through much growth in the last few years.  I realized that my way of viewing myself, my self-worth, and the world, my ontology, was horribly flawed due to my family of origin and childhood.  Children create a universe for themselves to be safe if reality is not safe.  I was still thinking and living as a scared little boy when I got married on May 21st, 2011.  I had serious enmeshment issues to my ex-wife; I lost myself in my prior marriage.

However, God renewed my mind, and my thinking. He still is. He is bringing me into theosis.  I have found healing in His mysteries found in the more ancient and classical forms of Christianity and Christian community. Despite my many disappointments, He has restored me and has healed my broken soul, is healing my broken soul, and will heal my broken soul.

My siblings are all overcomers with me who are doing well and are successful in their own ways, but like anyone else have their hardships and issues in life that may or may not stem from our family of origin.  For the first time in my life, I am in a happy, healthy, and stable romantic relationship that is marked by secure attachment bonds that allow Emily and I to be easily connected, without forcing it, vulnerable, honest, and self-differentiated as individuals.

Where I Am Now…

As far as counseling goes, I will be a Licensed Professional Counselor first and foremost, which opens me up to do many things. I will be able to be further certified in things as well.  I am very relationally-driven as a person and counselor, which will prepare me to work well with adults, adolescents, and children.  We had to do Mission Statements in my Professional Issues and Ethics course, so sharing it will give you a sense of what I am wanting to do:

My mission as a Licensed Professional Counselor is to help people achieve wellness in their inner lives, personal relationships, and career by helping to embrace the inner turmoil and suffering of their lives to find meaning and purpose in their pain and hurt to embrace it and find healing.  My aim is to equip people with the social-relational skills necessary to both discover and create meaning within their relationship while discovering the tools to optimize the quality of their personal and professional relationships.  It is my mission to help people achieve a higher level of functioning in their lives, to live free from fear and shame, to embrace vulnerability, and to live from a place of courage to achieve a more wholesome and authentic life, a life lived daringly.”

I am very interested in studying and researching shame, fear, and vulnerability as well as counseling chronic shame-based individuals and families.  I believe shame is a silent epidemic in our culture.  There are differences between shame and guilt.  Guilt says, “I did bad,” and shame says, “I am bad.” The reason I say this is because Dr. Brene Brown and her life’s work in shame have saved my life.  While going through my divorce, I had to take a deep look into my own personal Hades and the shame that binds me, so she is my hero.

I want to take that her Shame Resilience Theory, which is empirically sound and based, to help men and women, especially men since I feel masculinity in this country is lacking and is shackled in deep shame. It is a hard emotion and people usually get uncomfortable when you talk about your shame and shame in general, but I feel shame must be discussed.

I want to explain why I want to be a counselor, and to try not to be so longwinded, well, I have a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership.  I wanted, or felt called, to be a priest one day.  In some ways, I still would like to become a priest, but in others I see how it was not meant to be.  So, that desire to help others, to use my weakness to sit with others in their darkness that I had towards ministry also drove me into counseling.  Many say we do not chose this field it chose us, and I feel it did.

Pema Chodron, America’s first Buddhist Nun, once said:

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

That quote will be very visible in my office one day once I am practicing.  I feel that my shame, my insecurities, my fears, my darkness, my weaknesses not only are my own personal Hades to embrace and find Christ, but are also the very means through which He’ll use me to bring healing into the lives of others. And that is all I wish to do.

All of this, my past, my experiences, my education, my grief, my ADHD, and story coupled with my theoretical grounding being based upon Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (with the eclectic theoretical pillars being Feminism/Relational-Cultural Theory, Multiculturalism, Constructivism/Narrative-driven, Postmodernism/Existentialism, and Dr. Brown’s work) help me to be an empathic, ethical counselor one day whether I work with children or adults.

I did not have a typical or normal childhood that contained a regular course of childhood development.  Erikson’s stage 5,  in his Theory of Development,of “Identity vs Role Confusion” was a very heavy stage for me as I have attested.  I think that my atypical childhood will give me credence with young teenagers who are going through very hard times and who feel very misunderstood.  I am very open with sharing my childhood experiences as one can tell because I feel that when I work with children they will see that as a positive thing and that they can overcome as much as I have too.

I have shared so much from my personal life and story throughout this to highlight my entire story not just bits of it from one part.  I believe the whole story is best used to treat the whole person. Our stories are what unite us together and bring us healing.  I believe in owning our stories and putting them out there for the benefit of those who can take courage from them and find their bravery to write their own daring endings.

Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted
By Brene Brown

There is no greater threat to the critics
And cynics and fearmongers
Than those of us who are willing to fall
Because we have learned how to rise.

With skinned knees and bruised hearts;
We choose owning our stories of struggle,
Over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.

When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye.

We will not be characters in our stories.
Not villains, not victims, not even heroes.

We are the authors of our lives.
We write our own daring endings.

We craft love from heartbreak,
Compassion from shame,
Grace from disappointment,
Courage from failure.

Showing up is our power.
Story is our way home. Truth is our song.
We are the brave and brokenhearted.
We are rising strong.

4 thoughts on “My Existential Story


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