RHS Symptom: Definition Admission

While working on a chapter of my infant of a book the other day, I was writing about how tragically easy it is to define someone by their worst mistake.


I thought about this after Ted Kennedy died.


Hours after he passed, I listened while smug mugs threw around the ‘Chappaquiddick Incident’ like kids playing catch. Don’t get me wrong, it was a terrible and gross tragedy. It was reckless and filled with scandal. It was a time that I’m certain he never forgot and was always reminded of. To some, he’s remembered as the “Lion of the Senate” and to others, he’s simply defined by the tragedy of July 19, 1969. But while I thought about Mr. Kennedy, I was reminded about a tragedy that hit my family some time ago that changed it forever.

My dad was a man who allowed his past to define his present and determine his future.

One night, after partying with friends and downing an obscene amount of alcohol, snorting cocaine and popping pills, my dad made the incoherent decision to drive home. He never made it home that night and neither did the old man riding his bicycle on the road they momentarily shared. My mom was notified of the accident, the death of this man and the incarceration of her husband by watching the evening news.

That’s not just a mistake, that’s devastation. That’s not just a bad decision, that’s story changing.

My dad served time in prison, did community service and plead for forgiveness to God and his family. After that, I never heard him speak of it again. I knew he carried it around with him. I knew his guts ached about it and I knew that he was trying desperately to fill that gaping wound with anything that would numb the pain. He refused to talk about it. He was paralyzed with the fear that someone would hear it and only see him for what he had done, just like he did. It wasn’t until I found a notebook that he used as a journal that I saw proof of what I had always known. My dad was quite the fickle AA attendee, but, when he would decide (once again) to engage in sobriety, he would attempt to tackle the 12 Steps. However, there was always one step that he couldn’t seem to get past. It was Step 8 which requires the alcoholic to make a list of all the people they have harmed and be willing to make amends with them all if possible.

In a coffee stained spiral-bound notebook were crinkly, wrinkled pages upon pages of lists of all the people my father had harmed either emotionally or physically. I was listed many times throughout the scattered thoughts as well as my mom and other past loves. But one name stood out from among the rest.

It was the name of that old man.

It wasn’t until that moment that I even knew his name. Every single page had this man’s name on it…every single page. Every page was filled with the regret of that night, the decision to take all those drugs and wash them down with liquor. Regret of getting in the car and even anger towards those who let him drive home. It wasn’t hinted with regret and apology, it was saturated with it.

For years, my dad would march up to Step 8 with all intent and purpose to put these mistakes, tragedies and hurts to rest. To address them, ask for forgiveness, forgive himself and move forward. Not forgetting, but no longer defining himself by them. And like clockwork, that’s when the drinking would flow and the pills would swim again. The pain was too much and the fear of what others would think was too heavy. He couldn’t forgive himself and couldn’t believe anyone else could either. He had written a definition of who he was and swallowed it whole.

He took the life of someone else and in turn it took his.

We do this on a daily basis to ourselves and to other people. We take someone’s whispered impropriety, moral atrocity or thoughtless tragedy and put a period after it; defining them by that and that alone. Or, perhaps we are the author, penning the definition of who we are with permanent marker on our hearts, never allowing ourselves to become anything more than what we’ve written.

My heart becomes restless when people define me by my worse indiscretion, and I’ve had many. My heart needs to become restless when I do the same to someone else.

See, I’ve been one of those smug mugs myself.

It’s time we gave each other the freedom to change, move and grow. It’s time we allowed ourselves to become the person not defined by our past, but who steps forward with humility, strength, honesty and confidence in the full knowledge that we are no longer held captive to someone else’s definition (or our own) of who we are or who we can become.

Jesus says it best here…

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in (the very act of) adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
John 8:3-11

Go now and live…and give others the opportunity to do the same.

For more information on Restless Heart Syndrome (RHS), see my post called “Help, I have RHS!”



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