February 5, 2012
“Many are the deceivers:
The suburban matron,
proper in the supermarket …
getting ready to meet her lover
a mile down Apple Crest Road
in the Congregational Church parking lot”
– Anne Sexton, Red Riding Hood
As the poet Anne Sexton shows here, closets can hold many things, in addition to fabulous clothes. There are as many life secrets as there are lives to hold them: compulsive gambling; eating disorders; kleptomania; drug and alcohol abuse; compulsive, exploitative sex … the list goes on. Humans have a knack for compulsively and continually doing things that we do not want to have attached to our names. And when the secrets go on for long enough, they start to own us and take control of our lives.
On some level, when we are caught up in our secrets, we are convinced that we are utterly alone in the world. In the Torah portion for this week, the prophet Isaiah says “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?'” (Isaiah 40: 27). We have hidden wounds – some so deep that even we ourselves aren’t aware of them. To hide our wounds from ourselves and those around us, we create drama around our lives. We craft forbidden, intoxicating alternate lives that are better than the real thing, in order to distract us from our fundamental woundedness. The price of admission into these alternate lives is to be sentenced to perpetual, silent shame, which isolates us from those who love us. And the shame goes on to fuel more forays into the forbidden, in an endlessly self-perpetuating cycle of shame and acting-out. The man who goes to stripper bars over and over again – or the woman who binges on food and punishes herself by purging it back up again – are caught in a similar trap. People who go to drugs and alcohol over and over are in an even deeper bind, as their bodies become physically addicted to their intoxicant of choice.
How do we help someone who is consumed by his/her secrets? In the Gospel reading for this week, Jesus goes throughout Galilee “proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39). While addictions and compulsions are not things that can just be prayed away, they certainly do possess and drive their victims like demons. How did Jesus cast out the demons of Galilee? In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus cured a man of possession by simply admonishing the demon: ““Be silent, and come out of him!” (Mark 1:25). When our demons are confronted, they frequently speak the language of rationalization: “If you had my problems, you’d drink, too;” “You have no idea what it’s like to be fat;” “This is the only place where I get love and respect.” Our demons sense that the jig is up, and they will say anything to hang on to their drug or compulsion of choice.
So our demons have to be told, in effect, to shut up and get out. Now, it is important to note that it’s the demon we want out, not the person – unless the person has become a danger to others. (NOTE: If you are in a situation where someone’s actions are a danger to you and others, you need to GET OUT and GET TO SAFETY first.) To get
demons to shut up, like Jesus, we simply have to confront them: “I’m sorry, that explanation makes no sense;” “That argument is beside the point – your actions have violated my trust;” “Your drinking is traumatizing our family.” Once the demon’s rationalizations have been confronted, the demon (not necessarily the person) has to be told to GET OUT: “This behavior is unacceptable;” “Either the stripper bars go or I do;” “Either you can get help or you can leave.” State the consequences of continued acting-out plainly and bluntly, and BACK UP YOUR WORDS WITH ACTIONS. DO NOT WAVER. Get help, if necessary (there are many therapists who specialize in interventions).
Evicting our secret demons is more than just a matter of right and wrong – it’s often a matter of life or death. Any recovering addict or alcoholic knows that there are one of three places his/her disease will ultimately lead: jails, mental institutions or death. Eating disorders, left untreated, are potentially lethal. In an age of rampant sexually transmitted diseases, compulsive, unsafe sex with multiple partners can easily become a death sentence. At the end of Anne Sexton’s poem “Red Riding Hood”, the wolf that gobbled down Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother ultimately meets such a fate:
” … he fell over dead. Killed by his own weight.
Many a deception ends on such a note.”
May the love and strength of Christ be with us and our loved ones as we confront and evict the secrets that control us.