Last Fall I did something I never imagined I would do: I took a psychological evaluation. A full one. The kind that has hundreds of questions followed by a sit-down interview with a licensed psychologist.
To say it another way, I voluntarily took one of those tests that cost several hundred dollars and can label you for the rest of your life.
Again, I asked to take it.
Here’s why: smack-dab in my mid-40s I effectively averted the typical mid-life crisis by living a few tough years. Most people knew nothing of the trauma and trials I endured, but the pain was there. Every few months I spoke about pieces of my story from the stage at an event where I spoke, or I offered a glimpse inside my world via my podcast or some other venue where I taught. Looking back in the rearview mirror of my life, I realized I’d endured enough to knock someone off their feet and into the grave.
I mean it. The grave.
At one point several years ago. I actually contemplated suicide. Knowing life insurance policies like mine carry exclusion clauses which automatically negate the payout in cases of suicide, I planned the ordeal in my mind down to enough detail to make it emphatically not look like suicide at all.
Then I “got better.”
And then- as often happens once you taste a bit of victory- the bottom of life fell out like the proverbial plank dangling over the edge of the pirate ship. Turns out, I’d learned to manage “fruits” without addressing the roots. (No worries if that sounds Chinese- I’ll come back to the root-fruit issue in chapter 6).
I was regularly visiting a counselor when I took the eval. In fact, the eval was such a serious deal I needed a referral to get it. So, the PhD I was seeing did the honors.
That counselor happened to be the second professional I scheduled regular meetings with in the past 18 months. I abandoned the first after learning that although he presented himself as a licensed therapist he had no credentials at all. That’s right, zero.
The first guy, though tender and kind, regularly over-stepped professional, ethical guidelines by providing legal advice and offering false wisdom which clearly landed far beyond his skill set. Ironically, I was referred to him by a friend of his who was- who is- a licensed counselor and, to my knowledge, also assumed he was credentialed. Kind-hearted and well-intentioned, he proved disastrous.
So, I found the second guy, Michael, someone whom I verified possessed the credentials and had enough history to help me move forward. After a few sessions, he assured me, “There’s nothing wrong with you psychologically. You’ve just made a series of poor decisions. Some of those are understandable- not excusable, but understandable- in light of the circumstances you faced.”
I mentally retraced the past few years, cataloguing each significant event in just a few micro-seconds.
“But I need to know if something is wrong with me,” I told him. “I need to see for myself.” Then- “If there isn’t, OK. If there is, then I’m going to address it and get help. I’m not looking for a diagnosis, but I’m not trying to avoid one, either. I just want to intentionally walk in wholeness.”
“OK. Let’s do it.”
With my insistence Michael referred me to Jeff, a licensed doc with a long list of professional credentials, numerous referrals, and his own history of helping people navigate the tough terrain of mental and emotional health.
I returned from speaking at Advance 10.0 in Minnesota on a Monday afternoon. I rushed my boys to Scouts to earn a Citizenship in the Community merit badge that evening, and then arrived at Jeff’s clinic south of Birmingham the following morning at 7am for the eval.
Then I waited…
A few weeks later I received a phone call.
“Can you come in later this week?” It was Jeff. The doctor. I assumed he was calling to discuss the details of my evaluation with me, but he wasn’t…
I contemplated not going for a moment. The first time I visited him for the eval, I went to the office where I was working with a nonprofit to create some tools on- get this- emotional and mental health. That morning, in the office, a runner served me with legal papers. I was being sued by someone who promised me just a few weeks earlier than they “weren’t my enemy” and "could aways be trusted.” What a whirlwind of a few days…
After a few moments, I came back to the present moment. I asked Jeff point-blank, “Do you have a diagnosis for me?”
“No, I don’t,” he said. “I don’t have anything yet. I need more info from you. Your case is a bit complex, so I would like to interview you a second time.”
A second time?
Most people simply took the test and then met with the PhD or PsyD afterwards. Not me. My story was so technical it necessitated a second discussion.
Was I that messed up?
I decided it didn’t matter if I was or wasn’t. If the goal is to walk in total health, you turn and face whatever stands in your way and you move through it.
“Yes, sir. I’ll be glad to come back,” I replied. Then- “If something is wrong with me I want to know what it is so that I can address is and make it right. I’ll meet with you as many times as you need.”
In that moment I told myself, “Yes, great. I’m moving forward in the right direction. I’m going to get this figured out. Finally.”
And, simultaneously, I thought, “Geez… I require more time and attention than most people. He’s found something.”
Turns out, he hadn’t.
Well, that’s technically not true. He didn’t offer a formal diagnosis, but he did find something.
After another 90 minutes in his office, Jeff told me, “You’re not out of range, so I’m not comfortable diagnosing you. That said, you do have some things that caught my attention…”
“What do you mean by out of range?” I asked.
“People assume that psychological disorders are either a yes or no proposition- that you’re either a narcissist or you’re not, that you’re either a hypochondriac or you’re not, that you’re either an introvert or an extrovert, that you either have Post Traumatic Stress or you don’t, that you either…”
“People see it all as black and white, as opposites? That’s kinda how I do…”
“Yes, but it’s not like that at all.” He began drawing an imaginary scale- sideways- in the air with his hands. Then- “Think of it like this…”
He explained that on one end of the line you have a totally healthy person and on the other end you have a completely unhealthy person- as far as that one issue goes. The MMPI, the standard test I took, measures for numerous psychological disorders, meaning you might be healthy in one area but unhealthy in another. That is, the evaluation-instrument isolates different issues. And, the test is clever enough to tell whether or not you’re lying or even “self-protecting” from the administrator of the test when you take it.
Jeff continued, “Most people don’t fall on either extreme. I mean, they don’t fall off the one side where they’re completely unaffected by something. In fact, that would be unhealthy. For instance, the extreme opposite of narcissism wouldn’t be healthy, either- it would mean the person probably lacks self-worth and a healthy sense of their identity.”
As I nodded in agreement, beginning to understand what he was saying, he continued, “But most people don’t fall in the range where I- or any other professional- would diagnose them. There are a lot of people on social media using terms like narcissism and gaslighting and abuse who really have no idea what those words mean. In fact, many of the people who use those words the most are the biggest culprits…”
“I don’t like it when people use those terms,” I confessed. “They use them like grenades, and generally launch them at someone they had a disagreement with.”
“That’s only part of the problem,” he said. “Another part of it is that most of the people who use those words completely misdefine them. They use them as ‘hot words’ without any true definition. Or, even worse, they supply their own definition. No one gets to re-write their own dictionary…”
He continued, “Another issue is that because they mis-define the words, and because they most often- you might even say always- use them in a negative sense- it keeps people who truly struggle with the issues from seeking help.”
“That all makes sense,” I told him. “People get understandably nervous when they think they might have a physical issue to deal with, but we don’t attack them or assume inherent character flaws exist. With mental and emotional things, we automatically do.”
“That’s the other part of it. Mis-definition of it all makes people afraid of exploring an area in which most of us could benefit from a little help.”
“How does this relate to me personally?” I asked.
“That’s a good question. Your test came back and revealed a few things…”
“Well, first of all, you were a bit defensive.”
“How so? I just answered a few questions with a pencil and paper before we had the interview.”
“I know. The test showed that, though. There are questions built-in that screen that. You’ve been through a lot in the past few years, so this makes sense. It shows me that you’re carrying some tension, some nervousness in general.”
I thought for a moment, once again replaying various scenarios like the highlight reel of a horror flick for a few moments. I’d been a stress ball for quite some time, always bracing for when I was going to get emotionally punched again.
Then, I asked him, “What else…?”
“You’re not diagnosable for anything, but I can tell you the things you probably struggle with…”
For the next 15-20 minutes I listened to Jeff graciously outline for me some of the deepest struggles I had- some of the same issues the people closest to me would understand once explained. Yet, I’d never heard someone detail them with such accuracy, with such honor, and with such tenderness.
“At some point, you had to crash,” he said. There’s no way you could keep carrying this weight. “Now that you’re here, though, at the bottom, we can rebuild. And we can rebuild in the right way.”
Jeff told me that many people never seek help precisely because their cases aren’t extreme enough to warrant a formal diagnosis. Yet, at the same time, they’ve been affected and wounded.
I thought about it. I’m not a psychologist, a counselor, or anything of the sort. In my mind, it all made sense, though. If you’re looking at a scale of 1-10 and you need an 8 to receive a diagnosis, what do you do if I you’re just a 7?
Or what if you’re a 5- and are “only” halfway there?
A halfway broken bone is considered a fracture. A halfway “knocked out” boxer often has a concussion. A halfway working lung, kidney, or physical heart is… well… you might or might not even survive those halves…
So why don’t we apply the same criteria to emotional or mental hurts as we do physical ones?
It means you go undiagnosed. And you, if you don’t pay attention, you live with an undiagnosable struggle.
For years- probably a decade or more- my wife told me I needed to share my story with others.
“There’s power in it. And healing,” she encouraged. “Your words will set people free.”
She felt certain that owning my story would set me free, too.
The problem was that my story was… well… I didn’t want to confront it. I didn’t want to admit what was there, buried somewhere between all the pages. In order to share your story with others, you’ve got to admit that it is, in fact, your story.
Parts of it were hurtful, painful, and self-incriminating. Parts of it were embarrassing. They were at the time, anyway.
I was afraid that in sharing it I would suddenly find myself not accepted but rejected. And, as you might imagine from a guy who reveals that he’s “defensive” on a psych eval, relationships have been a fragile thing for me. I didn’t want to deal with the “distance” with which people often inflict punishment when you disappoint them. Rather than dealing with with truth- and moving into the light- I was content to live in the shadows.
As such, I got cozy there. I made my home in the dark for decades.
Trouble is, there’s no freedom in the places we hide- just a lot of fear. Whereas we think that walking into the light causes fear and that living in the hidden places provides safety, the opposite proves true.
1 John 1:7-9 is a passage that’s come to mean a great deal to me (NIV):
…if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This promise in Scripture tells us that when we walk in the light (i.e., the “open”), two things happen: cleansing and community. Let me talk briefly about each, because this is profoundly true whether you ascribe to the teachings of the Bible or not. This simply works:
Something held them back from the freedom they were redeemed to experience. They needed an encounter which would allow them to feel in their heart the truth they knew in their head.
John promised his friends that if they would walk into the light, the right people would fully embrace them. They would no longer feel alone; they would experience the community we all so desperately crave.
For years I shared only the parts of my story I wanted others to see- the good parts, the places where I “had it all together.” You may have seen those pieces of my story and applauded. Or “liked” it. Or “hearted” it. Or laughed. Or cheered.
The fact that I simultaneously struggled doesn’t make those great parts less true for me any more than it makes the notion that your struggles make your highlights unreal, either. We’re far more complex than we often realize.
In my life, those broken places occasionally surfaced. After all, bad trees- or, at least, trees with chronic disease (or dis-ease)— bear bad fruits, right?
The same symptoms continued resurrecting themselves in my life. Things like-
Whenever any of these things surfaced, I quickly “put out the fire,” rationalized how the current circumstances created a no-win situation for me, and quickly hid the debris. Most people never knew any of this.
I always moved on with life, each time hitting a pause button on the chaos before watching an even bigger issue surface within the next few years. The more I prolonged dealing with the root issues and focused only on the fruits, the deeper those roots grew. They became stronger. They made their presence known.
Those issues always re-surfaced at the most inopportune times, too. Crisis is never convenient. In fact, trials often come during what seem to already be the most challenging times.
Over time I developed a fear that maybe one day I would have plenty of time to share my story, and that when I did I’d probably write it while in prison or share it with others at a rehab- from some place like the local mission two miles from my house, a place where guys learn about Jesus all day, spend their nights and Saturdays working at the nonprofit’s thrift store, then get to visit their families for a few hours every other Sunday.
I know. Sounds weird. Looks weirder to actually type it.
For years I was afraid of what might happen if I just shared my story. I was afraid others would shun me; I was afraid my wife would disown me. I was convinced that, in the end, it would just be me and my story, standing there all alone.
The truth is that the Accuser always accuses. Always has. Always will. Long after the payment for sin has been made, he continues accusing. Until his dying day, he’ll continue escalating the chatter. Or, at least, he’ll try to.
Jesus knew this. As He approached Holy Week, He told His disciples, “Satan has nothing on me” (John 14:30).
There was no secret thing the Accuser could pull from the closet of Christendom and toss into the middle of His story. There was no scandal, no hidden skeleton, no untold event.
Our lives aren’t quite that pristine. Dig long enough, and you can find something on anyone, right? In my case, you wouldn’t need to dig too deep or push too hard.
What’s the path forward?
Ironically, freedom isn’t found in burying the clutter deeper. That just takes the roots deeper and makes them stronger. No, freedom is found in bringing everything to the surface, right there where everyone can see it.
Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
Again, freedom isn’t found in hoping that no one finds out. Freedom is found when there’s nothing more to hide, when the skeletons in the closet no longer have a stronghold on you (we’ll discuss this more in chapter 9).
Of all things, the Holy Spirit showed me something about his while watching an “unholy" movie. And He highlighted the solution.
Here’s what happened. One weekend I skimmed my Netflix “suggestions” and zoned-in on 8 Mile, a film in which rapper Eminem plays Jimmy Smith, Jr., a young man who desperately wants to leave the boundaries of Detroit and move towards his dreams and destiny. Jimmy finds himself competing in a rap contest, the kind which pits two artists against each other.
The rules are somewhat strange: the rapper who insults the other the most wins. So, with the beat blaring behind them, artists accuse one another of their public flaws and hidden failures. It’s basically Devildom 101.
During the final showdown, Jimmy flips the script, though.
Rather than insulting his opponent, he focuses only on revealing all of his own faults. He raps about his poverty, the fact that he’s a different race, the truth that his girlfriend cheated on him, and that he got jumped and robbed a few days ago. In doing so, he effectively disarms the enemy, plundering him of his complete arsenal of ammunition. When Jimmy finishes, there's nothing else that can be said.
He concludes his routine, taunting his foe, “Now tell them something they don’t know about me.”
Eminem tosses him the mic. His only ammunition now stripped from him, the opponent grows more embarrassed by the moment. The opponent (Clarence) sheepishly hands the mic back over. There’s nothing more to say. There’s nothing left to accuse. Eminem plundered the enemy of his power by saying everything that could be said about him on his own.
To quote Jesus, “This accuser has nothing on me.”
You can get to that place by living a perfect life that leaves nothing to accuse (like Jesus), or you can get there by unloading it all before the Accuser can. Most of have a trail of debris in our past, leaving us with option 2.
Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee who searched Him out one night to speak to Him about “new life,” that people who want freedom walk into the light, so that “their deeds might be exposed” (John 3:21). They don’t hide.
And John told us- we just looked at it- that cleansing and community occur in that light (1 John 1:7-9).
Let’s clarify what it means to “walk into the light.” Most of us don’t need to stand on a stage and “rap out” the highlight reel of our flaws, bearing (and baring) your soul for the masses. That’s not the means I suggest you use to find wholeness.
I define walking in the light as this: allowing the light to penetrate every dark corner and crevice of your soul, so that you might see what’s there, deal with it, and find freedom.
Walking in the light isn’t so much a “public display” of your junk as it is a private penetration of the secret places. Oddly enough, our hyper-sharing-place-it-all-on-social-media-for-everyone-to-see can actually mitigate against walking in the light. You can drop a note on social media and over-share parts of your life, effectively not sharing them at all.
Well, when you drop a post for a few thousand strangers to see, you off-load the info but you don’t necessarily do anything with it. You just set it out there. You feel like you’ve done the tough work. The hearts and thumbs seem to confirm that you have. But you haven’t. Most of the people who “like” and “heart” and even comment an “atta boy” know nothing of your story. They’re just being… kind.
Transparency doesn’t mean “disclose everything to everyone.” It means you disclose everything to the people closest to you, that there are no secrets in those open spaces.
In his book Culture of Honor, Danny Silk communicates this truth with an incredibly easy-to-understand analogy. He writes something like, “If you’re painting your house and you create a spill in the kitchen, you don’t clean up the bedroom. You clean the kitchen.”
He adds, “You might alert people who walk into the kitchen that you’ve just mopped the floor, that they need to be careful they don’t slip and fall.” Then- “You wouldn’t necessarily hang a Slippery When Wet sign in the garage or grab a megaphone and shout down the street about your accident to all your neighbors.”
Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
The people who get to know are the people who need to know. And maybe a few others. But that’s about it.
I outline it like this:
Lean hard on the first group, the small nucleus. And, when “their time” comes to deal with their own hard things (it will), hold them even harder and closer than they hold you.
The tendency in our culture is to hide- and then overshare. We tend to overshare with the masses, while hiding our hearts at a distance from those who remain closest to us. In a way, we confess- and get things off our chest but the relationships are never healed. We end up- get this- hiding behind a mask of false vulnerability. It’s easy to do- especially when we get likes, shares, and comments from strangers about what we’ve walked through.
I know. There’s some degree of irony in giving you that advice while I’m telling you parts of my story in a public venue. I mean, geez. I just put my stuff in print! It’s different here, though, because I feel like part of my job- my calling- is to communicate and show others how to navigate their own terrain, so that they can do so on their own terms when they’re ready. It’s easier to do that if I can communicate something to the effect of, “Here, here’s where I’ve been… and here’s how I’ve handled it.”
So, for the next few weeks, here we go...
A podcast series on Claiming Your Freedom- emotionally.
Claim Your Freedom- the book- (5.5x8.5, 264 pages)- https://amzn.to/2xwQcEY
Warrior Hope- the book- (8.x5x11, 230 pages)- https://amzn.to/2NY0Td2
Take the PTSD Self-Check at https://www.warriorhope.com/offers/n6JGXhSc
Claim Your Freedom- the book- (5.5x8.5, 264 pages)- https://amzn.to/2xwQcEY
Warrior Hope- the book- (8.x5x11, 230 pages)- https://amzn.to/2NY0Td2
Take the free PTSD Self-Check at https://www.jenkins.tv/PTSD
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