Redemption: A Rhetorical Recourse

W. Jason Duncan
April 12, 2023

I am a convicted felon. No single incident led me to where I am today; it was more of a series of events spanning a lifetime. What led me here is of less importance, though, than my journey through self-discovery and subsequent recovery during a sojourn of incarceration. The journey was a slow process, which took profuse reading. Each book I read offered specific, deeper insight into the pains I had harbored for so long. Reading books allowed me to initiate recognition of my failings and became the therapy I needed to facilitate correction of deep-rooted issues within myself.

I had to first realize I was wounded before I could think much about healing. Brennon Manning taught me in Ragamuffin Gospel that “it is only the reality of death that is powerful enough to quicken people out of the sluggishness of everyday life and into an active search for what life is really about”. Everything in my life, all that I knew and loved, was gone the day I was arrested. Eventually, all physical testimony of my life’s sentiment were discarded, stolen, or sold. This was the death necessary for me to awaken and begin to move forward. It is just as Tian Dayton, Ph.D. said in Trauma and Addiction: “Without certain losses many people would not redirect their lives in positive ways.” I may never have decided to evaluate my own life without the loss I had experience. Despite my failings, and ironically because of them, my journey truly began.

Houses of Healing, along with many other books I read, led me to understand that all experiences of life come from your own mind, not from the things associated with the experience (Casarjian). Because of this, a person may live through instances of great suffering but feel no pain, and likewise, experience moments that should be filled with pleasure, yet feel only sorrow, according to Edward Welch in Shame Interrupted. Internal conflict like this often comes about through emotional wounding caused by hurtful or traumatic relationships and life events (Dayton). Joseph Murphy conveyed to me in his book The Power of Your Subconscious Mind that this scarring is felt over the course of a lifetime and forms a psychological basis that acts as the lens through which one views the world.

Furthermore, Difficult Personalities showed me that words and thoughts carry great power. This is especially true for the ones that support the psychological basis upon which we live our lives. Negative, fearful thoughts diminish power, or self-confidence (McGrath). While in a weakened state, people tend to obsess over their problems and convey them repeatedly, allowing this negative emotional energy to grow. All our energies are shared with and dominated by these negative things consuming us. Our minds, immersed in their own worlds, bring themselves down and further imbue the psyche with a stronger sense of powerlessness. Even if you are not thinking of them consciously, they are still there exerting their own power over us (Murphy). For me, these times are when I would think dangerous things to and about myself. Back to my mind would come every hurt I ever endured, every awaited thing I ever missed, and every failure I ever experience. I recognize now how this level of thought unnoticeably controlled every aspect of my behavior.

I then exacerbated this behavior by masking all my pains, anger, and depressive nature through various addictions: alcohol, drugs, sex, and attention. It was even the seemingly least of the addictions, caffeine and sugar, that wreaked the most havoc upon my mind. “Trauma and addiction go hand-in-hand. The traumatized person...may discover the dangerous lesson that a little bit of alcohol, some heroin, cocaine, a joint, sugar of sex brings quick and reliable relief” (Dayton). The addiction started simply when I was young, then it progressed exponentially the older I became. Ultimately, I allowed my own pains to dominate my life. I then made excuses for my actions to protect my pains from exposure.

Choose + Choose Again opened my eyes to the idea that most men are stuck living lives as “emotionally immature boys in men’s bodies” (Butler). We carry around baggage, infantile attitudes, and behavior patterns that often hurt, and sometimes destroy, those closest to us. This correlates well with the fact that early-life trauma victims are often primarily driven by an insatiable emotional hunger (Dayton) (Medelsohn) (Simm). Our feelings may not always make sense to us, but they still drive us. People can do imponderable things because of how they feel, rather than by what they think.

There were so many of my own actions that I had rationalized away as being done out of love or what I considered sensible purposes. This delusion was nothing but selfishness surfacing. Often times people dole out their idea of love only to evoke a return of the emotion, usually unconsciously (Heindel). This idea resonated with me. It felt as though I had tainted the very concept of love with my corrupted longing for it. This convoluted concept had consumed my thoughts and dominate my decision making. “It’s difficult to fight an enemy who’s got outposts in your head” (Canfield, Harson and Nevark). People tend to create their own prisons by holding onto the wrong things for too long. What we dwell upon, we become. We attract what we dwell upon; therefor, if we focus on fear, pain, and weakness, it will eventually be realized within our lives. The mind tends to fear the worst, and when this becomes a mental resting place, fears begin to manifest themselves as reality (Dayton). Emotions and feelings are created by details, whether the details are true or not. They are the internal sums of what one has collected, observed, experienced, and grasped about life then delivered in an instant. That doesn’t mean, however, that the concluding judgements based off of the emotions are correct. It is up to the individual to sift out legitimate values and provide well-reasoned justifications to make these emotions not only true but also moral (Hall). This again, is where I had failed.

Multitudinous events contributed to my own negative, semi-depressive nature throughout my life. I held vast amounts of anger and pain in my heart for most my life due to those events. Unfortunately, emotions such as those do not express themselves effectively. They often become passive-aggressive behavior, or they manifest as sarcasm, bitterness, pouting, petulance, or even depression and complete emotional withdrawal. As a whole, pain and anger become terribly difficult issues due to how they manifest themselves. “Hurt people hurt people,” plain and simple (Young).

If left unchecked, the pains we experience will begin to poison our thoughts. Shaming voices inside our heads attached to the pains will continue to shout, until the wound is lamented and released (Welch). People may be able to store pain away or hid it in a secret place in their hear for a while, but eventually, their heart will begin to leak. All the un-grieved pain and loss will spill out into their life and relationships, poisoning everything and everyone that matters to them. “Giving words to trauma begins to heal it” (Dayton). It is the expression of one’s pain that often opens the door to understanding one’s actions. Hiding it or pretending it doesn’t exist allows it to continue to grow until it creates deeper problems. All too often, a person in pain learns to trust substances to numb their hurtful feelings. This, of course, only helps to compound the helplessness one feels. Fortunately, there are no truly hopeless situations, only people who have grown hopeless about them.

We all make mistakes. One thing that defines our character is how we handle our mistakes. If we deny them, they cannot be corrected, and they fester. If we give up just because we make a mistake, even one grievously large, none of us would get far in life. We have to persevere through them. We then have to use the mistakes as stepping stones on the path toward self-improvement. “We can change our lives by changing ourselves, but if we simply attempt to alter the out patterns without changing ourselves, the new pattern will soon be the same as the old one” (Hall). I must look at my own mistakes as potential for improvement upon myself and be willing to accept the change internally and viscerally, so that it changes me as a whole. Gaining the information does very little toward recovery if I do nothing to exercise it. This is where I must take action and practice all that I have learned because it is a person’s duty to rid themselves of mental defilements (Buddhist Education Foundation).

Most troubles certainly arise from the mind. During my journey, I came to recognize the grievous errors in my thinking and emotionally construct. I am still learning how to view all situations with the potential for something good—no matter how negative they may seem— rather than obsess on all the pains. By complimenting my reading with voluminous journal entries as well, the two have acted as the tools to awaken me to my flaws. Together they guided me on a much-needed journey of self-improvement. Some of the books I read added new knowledge while others only confirmed things already known. Although my battle with addiction continues, it is evident that books were therapeutic and integral to my growth. The reading I did helped me to become mentally and spiritually equipped for the future that lies ahead. Upon completion of my sentence, I will stand tall knowing that I shall continue life progressing toward self-improvement. Even though I will still have to bear my own Scarlet Letter of sorts, I shall wear mine without allowing it to become my identity and with much more certainty of Grace.

Works Cited

Buddhist Education Foundation. Gems of Buddhist Wisdom. n.d. Print.

Butler, Kevin. Choose + Choose Again. n.d. Print.

Canfield, Jack, Mark Harson and Amy Nevark. Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of

Positive. n.d. Print.

Casarjian, Robin. Houses of Healing: Prisoner's Guide to Inner Power and Freedom. n.d. Print.

Dayton, Tian, PhD. Trauma and Addiction: Ending the Cycle of Pain through Emotional

Inteligence. n.d.

Hall, Manly P. The Mystical Christ. n.d. Print.

Heindel, Man. Mesage of the Stars. n.d. Print.

Manning, Brennon. The Ragamuffin Gospel. n.d. Print.

McGrath, Helen Ph.D. Difficult Personalities: A Practical Guid to Managing the Hurtful

Behavior of Others (And Maybe Your Own). n.d. Print.

Medelsohn, Roy, MD. How Can Talking Help: An Introduction to the Technique of Analytic

Therapy. n.d. Print.

Murphy, Joseph. The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall,

1963. Print.

Simm, Harvey B., MD, ed. The Harvard Medical School Guid to Men's Health. n.d. Print.

Welch, Edward. Shame Interrupted. n.d. Print.

Young, William P. The Shack. Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007. Print.

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