Sometimes you need tough love in order to see what’s truly happening around you.
There’s not a single person on earth that doesn’t experience hard times. Rich or poor it can range from a tragedy in the family, the struggle of making good grades, a huge project at work that has no end in sight, or problems in relationships with people we care for and love. Life is messy. Often times we can lose sight of who we are when confronted with issues that weigh us down.
Recently, I was interviewed for a podcast by my friends at BadChristian. In what shocked even them, we ended up talking about my divorce that I went through last year. I chose not to go into great detail, as it was an extremely difficult time in my life. A lot of personal things happened in that year that led me to a point of weariness, lack of faith in God, and my inability to really see the direction I was headed. Divorce, no matter how you look at it, is a horrible thing. After experiencing it myself, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. The truth of the matter is that it’s absolutely heartbreaking and can really destroy the way you view yourself and your thought life.
As I was going through my divorce I let shame and guilt consume me. I felt that I was a failure and that I wasn’t good enough. I had a lot of thoughts of “Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?” or “Look at you…all you’ve ever wanted was family and look at what you’ve done with yours?” This consistent thought cycle led me to fall back into a crutch that I’ve had throughout my life. Alcohol. So I ended up using alcohol as a crutch, a temporal means of satisfaction. Alcohol was there to tell me it was okay. It was there to tell me, “This is a tough time for you. Just take a drink, trust in me, and you will figure this out.” But in reality, what alcohol had done was keep me stuck. It kept me in a place of despair, heartache, and depression.
I would wake up at times feeling completely hollow inside, believing all I had done and become was a lie. I believed I didn’t really have what it takes to be a “good” man. I started to not care about work and thought I was unfit to lead HeartSupport. It led me to believe I was a failure. And it ultimately turned out to be a double-edged sword. I could drown my tears and sorrows in a bottle and feel numb and safe. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t want to be helped. I didn’t want to be loved because I had come to the belief I deserved to feel this way. But I was wrong. It was a lie. But finally, after months of struggling with depression, divorce, and drinking my sorrows away a funny thing happened….Love knocked on my door.
One evening in the midst of my depression I called my father to question the existence of life. Why are we here? What are we doing here on Earth? What is the point of life if all we do is live, create, build and then die? My father told me that night, “Jake, life….for me, is loving those around you and doing something great for mankind. To make the small part of this world that you live in better and greater. To breath love and to help others.”
That profound truth was hard for me to see at that point. How could I love people if I didn’t even love myself? What was I supposed to do to help others?! I could barely get out of bed at this point, and the only reason I would was to grab a bottle and sulk in the confusion and despair I felt. Each morning I knew I was only waking up to another day of depression. So I replied with anger and frustration, telling him, “That’s not good enough for me! I want more! I want answers… I feel like Solomon does in Ecclesiastes where this is all vanity! Vanity of vanities!”
My father is a strong man, and he loves me dearly. So in his response, he was gracious but stern in his tone.
“Jake, you are full of greatness. You’ve come a long way son and you have so much in front of you but you can’t see it currently. You’ve got to put down the alcohol and get back up. If you don’t, you’ll let this divorce consume you and the pain that came with it. You’re an amazing man, Jake, but you’ve got to take steps to getting back to where you were… and see yourself the way I see you. You’ve got to put the drink down and face these feelings and overcome this. I love you”.
[clickToTweet tweet=”You may not realize it in the midst of the storm, but you’re meant for greatness” quote=”You may not realize it in the midst of the storm, but you’re meant for greatness”]
That night after he said that, I went home and poured all my beer out realizing it was a crutch and killing me. I needed to clear my head, face these feelings, and find healing. I realized that alcohol wasn’t the real problem but a symptom that only masked the deeper rooted issue. I had no self-worth. I was doing things in order to have people love me and when I felt low I went to alcohol. I was working my ass off with August Burns Red, I was working my ass off with HeartSupport, and I was doing everything and anything people wanted me to do in order to feel accepted and loved.
I realized that I was putting expectations only meant for God on people to love me the way I wanted to be loved. The problem was, I wasn’t sure what love even looked like. I just knew I wanted it.
It’s an interesting question isn’t it? How can you want something so bad, but not know what it looks like?
So I prayed, thought deeply, and asked myself: “What does love look like? I want to see it, feel it, and understand it, so that I can love myself truly. I certainly don’t want to do things to gain love or ‘earn’ love. I just want a love that doesn’t fluctuate depending on what I do, say, or how other perceive me, but a love that is constant.” Isn’t that truly our deepest desire? To be loved in spite of having to earn it even with our flaws on display?
So this is what I wrote down that night:
- Love is willing to go to the darkest place with you.
- Love goes to the darkest places for you.
- Love will help you climb the tallest mountains.
- Love is fierce and holy.
- Love does not quit, does not surrender, and does not abandon.
- Love is loyal. It is gentle and forgiving.
- Love is peace and joy. It can bring tears of gratitude.
- Love is sacrificial.
- Love demands to be seen and recognized.
- Love will fight for you and never stop until it is victorious.
- Love is a giver, a redeemer, and merciful.
- Love conquers all.
What is love? Love is God.
I realized that the love I wanted so badly was the love of God. That no one could really give me what I wanted, and the reason I had been putting expectations on other people only to watch them consistently fail me was because the only one who could give me that love was God himself.
But there was still more I needed to discover. I had to bring these thoughts of love from a high, ethereal view down to a practical one. I needed to see where God had shown up and how He loved me through difficult times. So I asked, “What did God help get me through?” and so I wrote down:
- You got me through my parents divorce.
- You got me through a close friend dealing with heroin.
- You got me through being sexually assaulted as a child.
- You got me through my own divorce.
- You got me through being bullied in school.
- You got me through my abandonment issues.
- You got me through my deep resentments towards people who’ve offended me.
- You got me through my struggle of understanding what a man looks like.
- You got me through the alcohol abuse that had manipulated me into thinking I had no worth.
These are all places where God was present in my life and loved me through them.
I realized even in the darkest moments of my life when I leaned on him he carried me through to the other side of the storm simply because He loves me.
But I didn’t want to stop there. What were some of the ways he had led me and blessed me? Where did He get me to? What areas of my life did he lead me to? I titled this section “You got me to…”
- You got me to August Burns Red. I left all I knew, working with guys I didn’t know, during a test period with them for 6 months, and have continued to keep me strong on tour.
- You got me to start HeartSupport. You gave me the idea, brought people to help me (like Ben and Nate), and reached people who have giving and understanding hearts that serve and donate so that it continues to grow and help more people.
- You got me to the place where I had the desire to start a small business called More Weight, helping build a community of people who desire to get mentally and physically fit.
- You got me to the Grammy’s.
That last one? The Grammy’s??? Talk about being on the top of a mountain. And as much as I poured time and effort into ABR and the music, it was truly God who got me there. He set me atop the mountain, simply as a way to show he loves me even when I was hitting rock bottom.
Recently I turned 31 and on my birthday I thought about how I had even reached that. Honestly, I should be dead by now. With a lot of the things I’ve done to my own body, the places I’ve been, the mistakes I’ve made, and the things I’ve witnessed I shouldn’t be breathing. But God has guided me each step of the way, fighting for me, protecting me, and leading me out of these dark places even in the midst of my deepest depression all because he loves me.
So while I may be healing now and it may sound like I’ve reached the sunlight after spending so much time in the dark, I want you to know I’m not naive. I know I will struggle in life again. I know environments will manipulate me into thinking I’m not good enough. I know I may have struggles in the future like health issues, getting stabbed in the back by a friend or even failure.
But there is one thing I do know. And that is that I am loved.
I realize not everyone reading this is a Christian, but I wanted to share honestly and openly about my struggles and where I’ve begun to find healing. It may help you if you’re struggling to do something similar to what I’ve done. If you want, try and write out your own list of “You got me through” and “You got me to.” See if it can bring some understanding to the trials you’ve faced and how you’ve come out stronger. For those that are Christians, a song that truly helped me through this struggle that may encourage you is “Nothing Like Your Love” by Hillsong UNITED.