The Head & The Heart
The Head & The Heart by Ryan Coleman
I have what I think is a problem. And to be honest, I’m not sure how to deal with it. I’ve thought for weeks and weeks now of how to explain, describe & diagnosis the situation; but the only thing I can come up with though, is to just write it all down. Since Juxt has given me a platform to say pretty much whatever I want, I thought I would take this opportunity to share more of who I am.
Growing up, I was raised in a typical white suburbia household. No real problems to deal with. No trials to breed the artist inside. Sure there were ups & downs, but it was a fairly common childhood. My parents were christians, I was raised going to a baptist church doing all of the things little christian kids do like going to Vacation Bible School in the summer, and Sunday school on Sundays. You know, typical middle-class christian stuff. I think largely due to never being challenged on my faith, my faith became something that I just did. It was what I was told to believe. I didn’t question anything, because, well… Why would I? Everything made sense to me. Creation? Sure. Jesus dying? No, I didn’t get that. But, I was told it was important. Therefore, sure, it made sense if I didn’t think about it for too long. Like I said, my story was common. I was a happy kid. From what I remember, it didn’t take much to make me happy. I was usually the class clown in school, always cracking jokes about something. I enjoyed laughing, and I enjoyed making people laugh. It was my forte.
Life went about in typical fashion for me. I wasn’t excellent at anything, nor was I terrible at anything either. I was a pretty typical kid. Fast forward a bit to junior high and high school and I started experiencing things I had never experienced before. People my age were smoking, some were having sex, and even some were already experimenting with drugs. I was only 12 years old coming across these things. It was eye-opening to say the least. This is where the trouble began. Because I had never been challenged before, when people would ask why I didn’t swear or smoke, or whatever, I answered that it was because I was a christian. And I found that in the city of Seattle, what once was “The Most Un-Churched City in America,” this probably wasn’t the best answer people wanted to hear. To make it short, I got made fun of. A lot actually. So here I am, a wimpy 82 lb. 12-13 year old kid with a backbone made up completely of what people had told me. No real experience to back it on. I stood up for things that I didn’t even know why I was doing so. I would answer to people about questions they had about my morality saying, “Because the Bible says not to.” But, honestly, I didn’t even have a clue if that was true or not. I hadn’t read the bible. I had read bits & pieces with my Sunday school or Youth Group at this point, but I hadn’t really read it. I was being challenged and I had nothing in my chamber. Nothing to stand on. I was just the sick calf that was easily taken out by the lions. It didn’t take much to tear me down. Christianity to me at that point was simply something my parents did, was more or less just a tradition in my house. Like I said, I didn’t even understand what Jesus dying on the cross was all about. And so, within a few years, I just gave up. I gave up trying to stand up for what I believed in. I just gave up. Because if life was going to be this miserable for the rest of my life standing up for something I didn’t even understand, than it wasn’t worth it.
There was more going on as I was in high school. There was this underlying problem that kept coming up. And I think this is quite common for people in that age group. I was just trying to fit in. I had tried sports, but I wasn’t very good. Baseball was the only thing I was relatively decent at, but I didn’t even make the JV team at my high school. With that disappointment came the decision to just quit baseball altogether. I rollerbladed for a period of time, but that only came with criticism from skateboarders who thought that rollerblading was lame. So with that criticism came the decision to jump ship and start skateboarding. I made a couple of friends in that group, one of which I’m still friends with. But for the most part, now I was hanging out with the kids that frequently were getting into trouble, smoking around back, and doing drugs. But from my lack of friends, this started to become appealing to me. Because they seemed to be so close-knit with each other. I had already gone so long of just wanting to be accepted, I was willing to do whatever it took at this point to just make some real friends. So by my Junior/Senior year or so, is when I started to experiment with drugs, alcohol, whatever. Because now that I was no longer on the outside “judging” these people, through the act of getting high, or getting drunk with them, it was like my initiation to become a part of their group. And for a long time, I felt that these people were friends for life. I bent my thinking, my style, even the music I listened to, to be more like them. For the first time in my life, I felt accepted. I was one of them.
I tried the whole college thing. Let me re-phrase: I tried the whole community college thing. It was important to my parents that I stay living at home. So they said that so long as I continued living at home, they would pay for me to go to school. But, I had to go to community college for two years first, and then go to a normal college. My Mom had done it that way. My sister had done it that way. So, apparently, that’s what I was supposed to do too. Let me ask you a question: Have you ever gone to community college? Actually, let’s go one step back. Did you enjoy high school? No? Well, me neither. I hated it actually. I don’t use that term lightly, I. HATED. IT. For those that answered yes to going to community college, you already know where I’m going with this. I’ll tell the rest of you for those that don’t know. Community college is high school. There is no difference. It’s exactly the same. Going to college after high school was supposed to be exciting, right? It’s supposed to be fun! Taking classes that YOU want to take, making new & mature friends, going to parties. It’s supposed to be that next step into becoming an adult! Well, college might be all of that. But I’ll never know. Because community college isn’t any of that. And if you hated high school, you definitely were going to hate community college. So did I stick around for those two years? Nope. I wanted to slit my wrists. So I quit.
At this point in time, I was in my first band. In that band, I made my first real BEST friend. He was my counterpart. He was the first person I had ever met, that I could talk music with, without leaving the conversation in disgust. We both loved heavy music & punk rock. So we combined the two influences and created music that I still think to this day, is great, great music. I thought I was going places! So why would I stay in school? I was too busy getting high anyway. Music became everything I lived & breathed. There wasn’t a moment in the day where I wasn’t thinking of inspiration for a new song. All I wanted to do was move out of my parents house, start getting high in my new apartment, and play music. That’s it. I would work whatever menial job I could find that would support my new habits, so long as I could play music when I got off. For years & years, this is the mentality I had. I wasn’t trying to build a career, I was convinced that my band had something special, and it was only a matter of time before we would all get signed and I could cover my body in tattoos. I need to drive this point home for you to understand where I’m going with this. Music was my life. It’s all I could think about. It filled that creative void in me to the point where I was overflowing. I lived for playing shows. Being on stage was my element. I was more comfortable on stage than anywhere else. More than that though, I had compadres! Friends! Best friends! People I could never imagine living without. Never had I had such a feeling of acceptance than when I was with those guys. I was on top of the world, and nothing anyone could do could bring me back down. Any one man that is. But a God? Yeah, a God can knock you flat on your face. And that’s exactly what happened.
I was in my early 20′s when life was good, but, it wasn’t great. I was always having money problems. And the band wasn’t going as well as I had hoped it would. For whatever reason, my parents came to me one day and said they had something for me. They wouldn’t tell me what it was, but if I wouldn’t mind watching a brief 10 minute video first. I agreed, popped in the video, and there on the screen, immediately came the words, “eXperience Israel.” I sighed in my head. It was just another weird attempt by my parents to get me to start talking to Jesus again. The video was just a bunch of college aged people running around Israel from what I could tell. The movie ended, my parents came back inside and told me there was a 2 week mission trip they had become aware of and asked me if I’d like to go to Israel. My mental state at that point was, “Well, I could use a vacation. I haven’t had one of those in a very long time.” So I agreed to go. My parents looked shocked, but they were happy nonetheless. They told me that the eXperience Israel team was asking that everyone read the 4 gospels in the Bible and the book of Acts in preparation for the trip. I agreed and was on my way. For me when I look back on that moment, I picture Jesus standing in the room with my parents & I. And He watched me closely not saying a thing. He watched as my parents nervously asked me, almost wincing as they did it thinking I was going to say no. But I said yes. And I picture Jesus looking at me after I agreed now speaking, saying, “Are you sure? Are you sure you want to come into my house looking like that? Because I’m going to have to clean you up first.” Because that’s exactly what happened. Within the next two weeks, I was without a job, my guitar had been stolen out of my band’s practice room, and my girlfriend, whom I had wanted to marry, moved out and left me to go back home in her hometown far away from me. It was a pretty ultimate low for me. To make things worse, that best friend I had spoken about in my band, now hated me. A lie was spread about me that I was trying to split him & his fiancee up, but, it wasn’t true. And I didn’t have a single soul to verify the side of the story I was telling. I had a roof over my head, yes. But that rent was being paid by the multiple loans I was taking from my parents. My health? Yeah, I had it. But I was trying to kill it every day with alcohol. It was a terrible low for me. I shrunk up to about 120 pounds. You could see my ribs. I was very skinny. I wasn’t eating. I was just drinking. A 100% liquid diet.
As requested by the Israel group, I eventually got around to reading those 4 gospels. Here was my daily routine at the time: I would wake up with a terrible hangover, walk across my street to the nearest Starbucks, order a tall cup of coffee, walk outside to one of their tables, light up a cigarette, and start reading my bible. It was the first time in my life that I was actually reading the bible because I chose to. No one was watching me. I just had nothing else to do. I abused the Starbucks refill policy all day. I would just sit there reading & smoking. After awhile of reading, some of words seemed to just jump off the page and grab my heart with both hands and squeeze. There were times at that Starbucks where I would just start balling, just crying like a little child. Right next to the buildings entrance too. Customers walking in & out would be forced to see the skinny, crying man. Eventually the employees there felt bad for me and just started giving me free coffee. They knew I didn’t have much anyway since I was always paying with random change I could scrounge up. But here I was, this grown man, sitting in the Seattle rain underneath of an awning by the entrance, crying. Just sobbing. I was sobbing because I realized that I was really terrible at making decisions. All of the decisions I had made up until that point, had left me broken. There’s no other way to describe where I was at, but just completely broken. I remember praying for the first time in a long time telling God that I was sorry for making such a mistake out of my life. Telling Him that I was sorry for not talking to Him in so long. I remember leaving Starbucks one day in the rain and crossing a 4 lane highway in the rain, with my eyes closed; praying that someone would hit me because I didn’t want to live anymore. I heard honking, I felt the rain on my face, and I felt the tears coming down my cheeks, but I never felt what I had wanted so badly. Something about that experience made me realize that it was time to change things. I dug into that Bible so deeply. I wanted all of it. I still didn’t like christians, and I didn’t like church, but I loved that Bible. I had no plans of going to church. But I had daily plans to read that Bible. It was intriguing to me! The stories were coming to life in my head. I couldn’t wait to turn another page. And I’m not the reading type either. So this was abnormal for me to be reading so much. But the thing that kept coming off the pages was this: “For those who have ears, let them hear.” Jesus actually says it a lot. Now I know I had read those words before, but they had never had the impact that they were now having. I understood it. I wanted to know. I wanted so badly to dig in, to finally hear what this Jesus guy says in this book I’ve been hearing about my whole life. So I did, I dug in, and I haven’t stopped.
Eventually my trip to Israel came, and really, it was just icing on the cake at that point. It was that last bit that sealed the deal. The person I was changing into became complete. Everything I had been reading in the bible, came to life in Israel. I had real places to attach these stories to. The trip was truly life-changing. My life continued on after Israel with many more ups & downs. I’ll be the first to tell you, if you think that starting up a relationship with Jesus will make your life easier, you’d be wrong. But I wouldn’t trade this relationship for the world. The way I describe it to people is that, with this new relationship comes new eyes & a new life. You see truth. Everything changes. I couldn’t be more different than the way I used to be. People have even told me numerous times that when I came home from Israel, I even talked different. I really did become a brand new person. Life is difficult now though. It’s not as simple as it used to be. Things are more complicated. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s like in The Matrix where Neo had to take the red or blue pill. One pill and he would stay the same, nothing would change. The other pill would completely change his life and he would begin to see everything differently. He would see the truth. With that truth comes separation. You can no longer go back to how things used to be. Like I said, I wouldn’t trade my relationship with Jesus for the world. Because while life can be difficult, I also have something I never had before: I have someone I can talk to, whenever I want to. I’m never alone anymore. I know that loneliness, and what it feels like. But I don’t have that anymore. Again, it’s all kind of difficult to describe, but I think you can see what I’m trying to say.
I always thought that when/if I ever became a christian again, I would stop listening to metal music and getting tattoos. Because that’s what all christians do, right? I didn’t know. I did resist going to church for as long as I could, but I eventually got to a point where I wanted to know more. I wanted someone to teach me more of what I was reading. So I started going to church. And guess what, all those judgmental christians that have been stereotyped a thousand times, well, they all are true. It wasn’t that big of a shock to me. From all I could tell though, they had just lived pretty sheltered lives going to christians schools, never leaving church, never making “non-christian” friends, and never going outside of their group of light, to go and do what Jesus commanded, and be a light in the darkness. I didn’t get angry at them, but, I did get angry. It felt like church or these christians were trying to indirectly cage a wild animal inside of me. It was infuriating actually. Dustin Kensrue, the lead singer of Thrice I think said it best in his song, “Blood & Wine.” He says, “Now that I’ve tasted blood, this wine seems to thin.” I don’t know how else to say it. I wasn’t interested in playing Monopoly with a group of christians on a Saturday night. I wanted to go to a show! Listen to some metal! Get some tattoos! But I was alone on this one. It was aggravating. I felt like, maybe this was just the curse I was to bear for the rest of my life. After a little while of trying to become friends with these people came the itch. The itch to play music again. Although, I didn’t want to play with non-christians. I know that with the band, comes family. I can’t just casually play with band members. They become your best friends. But, I wanted to make this Jesus thing work, and I know I can’t do that on my own. Jesus talked about being in the body with fellow believers. You can’t be the thumb on a body and say to the rest of the body parts, “You know, you guys suck. I still believe in Jesus and all of that. But I hate being connected to you. I’m going to go do my own thing.” You’re a thumb. It doesn’t work that way. You need the rest of the body. So yes, even though I’ve had bad experiences at churches, I’ll always argue that church is still incredibly important. Point of this is, my search for bands was incredibly narrowed now that I was looking for christians to play with, and not just any ole’ group of dudes that want to play some Pantera.
For the last 7 years, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve searched. I’ve played with a small handful of bands, some playing big shows, some playing small coffee shops. My selection is few. I hadn’t given up on my dream of doing music after becoming a christian, and I really did give it my all. But by the time that I was 27, I realized that it just wasn’t happening. It all came to a close when I moved from Florida back to Seattle shortly after getting married with the hope of joining a christian metal band that recently signed a record deal. I tried out and everything, but, it just didn’t happen. And so that was that. I tried my best to make music my career. But like everything, it just fizzled out. The band in Seattle didn’t cause me any heartbreak. But letting go of music gave me such immense heartbreak. I can’t just play music by myself, it makes me angry. I love the dynamic of playing with others. I love the creative juices that flow out of practice rooms. You just don’t get that when you play by yourself. So I gave up. I just let it all go. It was heart wrenching. Absolutely heart breaking.
I know sadness. I know heartache. I know them well. So when I let go of music, I guess I was just used to the pain. It kind of just numbed me up. The sad part is, I think I let go of music a long time ago, I just didn’t know it, and I don’t know exactly when it was. Bands failed and I grew weary of trying. Or at least, trying as hard. So somewhere along the line my emotions just stopped working. That’s where I’ve been going with this. I completely lack emotions. With the amount of broken relationships I’ve left in the wake of my moves across the country, or the apathy that has taken over, I just don’t care anymore. I don’t care to try. What’s weird to me is, I’ve just become some kind of robot. It feels next to impossible to make me excited about something. I remember this whole “Ryan and his lack of emotion thing” came about after my wife & I bought me my very first computer last year. Seriously, I had never owned one before. I worked on them for a living, but, I didn’t even own one. We bought a Macbook Pro, the exact one I had been pining for. We were walking away from the store and my wife looks up at me with a huge smile on her face and says, “Aren’t you excited?!? We just got you a new computer!!!” I looked at her with a completely straight face and said, “Yeah.” She was mad; righteously so. We had just spent all sorts of money and all I could say was, “Yeah.” I couldn’t even fake a smile. Ever since then my wife has taken notice that I don’t ever get excited. I don’t get happy. I don’t really get sad either though. I’m just this flatline kind of person. Nothing exciting here people, move along.
There was this brief period of time when I first downloaded Instagram that I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time: creativity. It had been so long since I used that part of me that I actually was starting to feel excited. I was doing something that I’d never done before. I was taking pictures. It was really fun for me. But this photography was like a new girlfriend after a bad breakup. Music being my original love, was still on my mind. This new girlfriend tried to convince me that I didn’t need her anymore and that she would fulfill all of my needs. She filled me with hopes & dreams that she would be all that I would ever need. And I think for awhile there, I really believed her. You have to understand, music had become this monster. A monster that was threatening me that if I didn’t feed it, it was just kill me from the inside out. I needed something to keep it at bay. Photography was the only thing that seemed to be able to keep it back. And for awhile there, it kind of worked. But, photography isn’t my first love, music is. The new girlfriend just seemed like the safe, smart choice. My head made that decision, not my heart. There was a moment somewhere in the past that my heart had been completely crushed. Whether it was through the “cleansing” I went through in preparation for Israel, or from the weird judgmental christians at the churches I’ve gone to, or maybe when I realized that my music dream was over. At some point, I decided that my heart was no longer allowed to make decisions, and my head took over.
I don’t expect a solution to just pop up and smack me in the face. But, I wanted to take this opportunity that Juxt has given me to tell you a little bit about me. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, this lack of emotion thing. I think I just wanted to get it all out there, write it down. Writing all of this out has already been a bit therapeutic for me, and I hope that if you identified with any of this, that’s it’s also been therapeutic for you too to know that you’re not alone.