Engaging Our Stories with Adam Young

For the final episode in our series on engaging stories, Dan and Rachael talk with therapist, podcast host, and Allender Center Fellow, Adam Young. Many of you may be familiar with Adam from his podcast, “The Place We Find Ourselves,” and throughout this conversation, you’ll begin to hear more about Adam’s story and how a life-altering encounter with his father set him on a path to become a mental health counselor. Follow along as Dan and Rachael engage his story by asking key questions, from how he experiences beauty to how he lives as someone attuned to and in the middle of the trauma around him.

Content Warning: This conversation touches on topics of war trauma and violence.

About Adam

Adam Young (LCSW, MDiv) is a therapist who focuses on trauma and abuse, and the host of The Place We Find Ourselves podcast. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his wife Caroline and two children, a daughter (13) and a son (10). Adam is an Allender Center Fellow, and enjoys mountain biking, skiing, soccer, and windsurfing.

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Episode Transcript

R: Well, we’re back today with the final or our final guest in our fun story series we’ve been doing.

D: Oh and we could not end with a more remarkable story and but-may you introduce our guest.

R: Well, we’re very privileged to be here today with Adam Young and Adam is a therapist, a podcast host among many other things that I will let him share more about. But he is also a quarter member of our team and we’re very privileged, that he plays with us and has spent many years journey with us in various forms at The Allender Center. So Adam, would love for our audience to hear a little bit more about who you are and what you do.

A: Yeah, thanks. It’s, it’s fun to be here. It’s fun to be with both of you. I’m a dad to hope and Eli of a 13 year old daughter and a 10 year old son. I am a husband to Caroline and I have kind of journeyed with the Allender Center really since its inception. So there’s a tremendous gift when you are married to somebody who is supportive of an understanding of what you’re so passionate about and thankfully I’m in such a marriage. So yeah, therapist. I host a podcast called The Place We Find Ourselves which really in many ways is the result of the narrative focused trauma care certificate program that you guys do because the fourth week of that program is focused on your kingdom. And, it was during that fourth week, many years ago that I began thinking about, you know, what is my gifting? What is my kingdom? And at that time I was, I was basically a preacher without a pulpit. I’m a former pastor and I had been dismissed. And so I didn’t have a pulpit. And the podcast gave me one overnight. So super grateful for the fourth week of The Allender Center program certificate program and really launching the idea behind the podcast.

D: It’s so crucial for us to have partners, and to have a sense that we don’t locate all that we do under our own banner, but it’s imperative that I believe that not just our work, but other work includes a kind of intersection with other voices, other perspectives, and Adam, you and your work and your podcast has been one of those great allies and partners.
I’m sorry I interrupted you before.

A: What else, oh introducing myself. Yeah, I’m a therapist. Like you said Rachael. I love love, love doing therapy, I work with traumatized individuals and couples. I do group work with you guys. and it’s story-based, I mean I love reading and engaging stories of trauma, particularly with couples, like I’m in the middle right now of doing an intensive with a couple and I mean there are a few things more sacred and hopeful and holy than helping a couple understand their story and how their stories are playing out in their marriage. It’s just, it’s so fun to play in those realms and you all have equipped me to do that. So I couldn’t do what I do without the training of, the The Allender Center

D: thank you. But before we jump much further, I’ve got to go back to a verb. Dismissed, that’s, that’s an interesting verb. And it lingers there. A pastor without a pulpit, having been dismissed. There’s a story there is, they’re not?

A: Oh, there’s a long story there. Indeed. Yeah.

D: And that without whether going in or not, it says that you have known something of heartache in the context of ministry.

A: Yes, absolutely. Immense heartache, and Caroline as well. Because the dilemma with being removed from a pastoral position is that it always inevitably involves your community as well. And so the loss of community was as painful as any part of it.

D: Well, uh we can say in an obvious sense, none of us would be engaging trauma as a primary work if we didn’t know something of that heartache ourselves, so to kind of just jump us in– if there’s one story– and you know what a stupid question. One story. But there are 100, there are 1000s there are millions. But if there’s one story that sort of that would give us a sense of who you are from your life. Is there one that comes to mind?

A: Yeah, when I was 18 or 19, beginning college and it was the first time I started really experiencing anxiety and depression really intensely and I went to counseling for the first time. Her name was Anne [redacted], and after some individual sessions, she suggested that we have a family session. I have two brothers who are twins they’re, two years younger than me, a mom and a dad. And she told me Adam, I’m not afraid of your father. Your father doesn’t scare me. And with that I felt confident that, okay, not just confident, but incredibly hopeful that there was somebody who could contend with my father besides me. And she was, you know, a professional, she’s a professional. So we’re gonna have a family session, and I don’t remember exactly what the purpose of it was, but I think it was something to do with, I’m going to express some of my anger at my dad. So we have the family session and we’re all there and I don’t know how long we engaged before my dad started really breaking down and talking about his trauma with Vietnam. He’s a Vietnam vet. He was in the Marine Corps ‘67, ‘68, And he killed 29 people, some of them boys. And he bore this trauma which I knew, but didn’t know. Of course I knew as an 18 or 19 year old that he had been in Vietnam, I knew about the people he had killed. You know, I knew, but I also knew that his narrative was, I do not have PTSD like so many other Vietnam veterans. And so I really grew up grateful that my dad was one of the few that didn’t suffer from PTSD. Of course, you know, now I realized he had full-blown severe PTSD but didn’t know that at the time. Anyways, he began sharing for the first time ever with our family. And I wouldn’t say sharing, but emoting. Unloading, releasing, unbearable trauma in this room about Vietnam and about, when he would turn the shower on in the morning, that’s when the images would begin to flood him of the boys and the men that he killed. I noticed all of the sudden that the therapist had left the room. It was in her home, it was a side office in her home, and she had quietly slipped out. And it was just me holding this space. My brothers were weeping, I was weeping. I don’t remember my mother at all, I know she was there. But I was focused on my father and his pain. And it ended, the session ended, they had, we had driven to cars. So my dad had driven and my mom had driven, and as it happened, I got in the car with my dad, and I remember so vividly I drove, he sat in the passenger seat and I held his hand over the emergency brake, you know the way a boyfriend and girlfriend in high school hold hands, you know, interlocking fingers, you maximize the surface area. And I held his hand like that, and I said to him as we’re backing out, Dad, I love you so much. I will always love you, I will love you more than my future wife. Mhm. Mhm. And we drove home. And that’s the story that came to mind. We can unpack together what it says about me in all of its complexity, but I think it says a lot about me and my family.

D: Oh, again, to just to begin, thank you, feels vastly inadequate– to say those words, but thank you. It’s a staggering, stunning, heartbreaking story on so many levels, if you don’t mind me beginning in what may seem peripheral, where did the therapist go?

A: I imagine she went to her home. And here’s how I made sense of it. I made sense– I remember this part vividly. I remember thinking to myself, she’s such a good therapist. She knows this is a private family moment that she needs to let us experience by ourselves. So I gave her an out immediately. Not just an out, but she was in my mind, elevated in her kind of therapeutic skill, that she abandoned us– and frankly abandoned me, her client– in that moment.

D: Yeah, well, it’s not hard to hear you were your father’s, foundation presence, which implies as well, that you would also be in many ways the one he worked out unaddressed rage and hurt and confusion. If you are his foundation, you’re also the object of all that is not lovely about him. Is that a fair way of putting it?

A: It is.

D: So, you’ve had to be the presence of containment, but also the one who brought intense attunement to his very being. And again, I make no judgment really about her other than– it seems— I’m lying. Dammit! She abandoned. And, it’s bizarre, but she left you again in that role.

A: And remember, her words to me, which were, I don’t mean this sexually, but they were seductive were “I am not afraid of Your father, Adam”. That really that gave me immense comfort that someone could hold and engage this man. Other than me. Yeah. And in the moment of intensity, uh she was afraid of his pain. Mhm.

D: And crucial to underscore that– you weren’t.

A: That’s right.

R: But you also knew– I’m thinking of this exchange in the car, and this kind of vow and commitment. You also knew, though you weren’t afraid, that you were very responsible for his life, that some sense of your capacity to love in extreme measures, unconditionally, with devotion, could maybe somehow save him.

A: Right. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t afraid of his pain, I was terrified of this pain. I just wasn’t I had the courage to not run from it. And in many ways– it’s only been in recent years that I’ve really come to realize this–the equation in my mind was, if you can heal him Adam, he can father you.

R: Yes.

D: Yeah. Yes. And in that you were his father.

A: Right.

D: And likely continued from that car and beyond, at least for some season to be his father, a father as an orphan? Uh waiting to have the father come Again, It’s not hard to put words, but I love for you to put words to how has the shaped your brokenness? How has that shaped your beauty? Yeah. How now?

A: Yeah. Well with regard to the Brokenness, I mean it’s not it’s not a stretch to see the dilemma with getting married after a vow like that. I mean, I, I’ll quote you Dan at recovery week. You said to me “Adam, do you realize that you sacrificed your future wife on behalf of your mother to a violent father?” And yes, I realized that when you said it to me and, and no, I still don’t fully realize that. Now, you know, no one needs to fear for my marriage. I have repented of said vow and shifted said loyalty, uh, to my beloved Caroline. But! It had to be a conscious shift, because I had pledged myself to this man. And you know, if that’s not brokenness playing itself out, I don’t know what is, it creates a wedge in a marriage that hasn’t even happened yet.

D: But you bring another character on the stage as you put words to that and that is you, married him on behalf of your mom.

A: Say more. I’m intrigued.

D: Well, you’re the one who said it, dear friend. So I will return to you to say, how did that play out that in your marrying him? You were doing something on behalf of your mother.

A: Right. Yeah. Part of the complexity of my story is that I was actually triangulated by both my mother and my father and this happens. It happens. There are times when and it was certainly true for me, where both my mother and my father looked to me to be their spouse in many ways and my mother. You know, I was gonna say my mother was not capable of engaging my father’s pain authentically. I don’t know if that’s true. She certainly was not willing to, but frankly, I think the truer sentence is that my father preferred my comfort to hers.

D: Shall we say that creates a certain amount of confusion on many levels.

A: Madness. Madness.

D: Yeah. So uh if I can like knock on the door, that’s far harder to name. We’ve said this in other podcasts, I’ll just simply repeat it. Naming where our trauma actually has been the setting, been the soil of something really beautiful. It’s never a means of trying to say, isn’t it good, We were traumatized. Dammit! No, no, no, no. However, something of the paradox of the redemptive process is that often the soil of despair and darkness becomes the very soil that incredible beauty shines. So all that to say, how have you seen something of this, Okay, double triangulation. You know, I’m looking at my own life going, oh thank God I didn’t get triangulated by my father. My mother was enough, thank you. So it’s even more complicated. It’s even more erotic, powerful, confusing, all that language. How, how now has beauty come?

A: Well, I think in a couple of ways. My courage grew as a result of interacting with this man and this woman. I don’t claim to understand how courage develops, how desire relates to courage, but I desired to be fathered, and I desired to be fathered by him. And I still desire, he’s dead now. He died last year but I still desire fathering, but from him. And so I looked him in the eye when he would rage at me full blown PTSD rage. And the dilemma with that is that there’s both beauty and that and there is Brokenness and that there is a provoking of a man that I know is going to be violent towards me. But the courage has to be named. The other part that where I see beauty is, my mother and father taught me how to attune really, really exquisitely attune to the subtle shifts in the affect and emotions of two very two very powerful people. And so you know, it’s like you said, Dan, the paradox of the redemptive work of God, what do I do all, what am I good at? What I’m good at is I’m really good at attuning to the subtle shifts in what’s happening in the person’s heart that’s sitting across the room from me. And that is a gift. It’s a power. It needs to be shepherded well, but it was developed because of my mother and father, it wasn’t developed in grad school and it wasn’t developed frankly at the Allender Center. It was honed there, but the gifting was really, if you can use that word, from my family.

D: Mhm. Again, the intersection of such brokenness and such beauty. Again, if I can just keep knocking on that door, how do you see the intersection of the two just in relationship with your beloved wife?

A: The intersection of the brokenness and the beauty with Caroline? Well that really to answer that adequately, I would really need to put some words around the dynamics with my mother. Because my mother in this story that I’ve shared was conveniently and surprisingly silent. And that was a betrayal of our whole arrangement. Our whole arrangement with mom and I was Adam, you’re there for me. I’m there for you. That was how I thought of it. And in my mind, my mother’s kindness and tenderness was the gift that God gave me to compensate for my dad’s violence. That’s how I made sense of my growing up years. The dilemma with that is that every time I was in need, like desperate need, like in this moment, my mother was somehow silent. This woman who was always present and kind and there, was all of a sudden absent. And that realization which has been, you know, the past decade, has helped me see the dynamics between me and my mother much more clearly and has helped me name the covert sexual abuse between my mother and I. And I would say that has played out with Caroline, uh, you know, times without number. How? Well, I can be very attuned, but I am sick and tired of attuning to the woman. But there is a, I marry this woman and there’s something in me that married her because she’s not going to ask that of me ever. And that gets into her story. But the dilemma with that is she’s a daughter of God who deserves and needs an attuned husband. So if that’s at least the beginning of an answer,

D: Yeah. And I’ll just say that I know your wife– perhaps not as well as you, but I also know that she’s a formidable presence, insightful, and growingly courageous. So I’m as you know, with all that language that, like, I’ll just say my marriage, moments of tumult that I have not chosen, but I have gained as a result of my wife’s growing maturity to not only name my bullshit, but also my beauty. So that’s sweet. That shall we say again, that the bind of being the lover of both your mother and father has not kept you from being able to become further the lover that you wish to be and your wife wants you to be. So, so very glorious. If it again, just one more knock on this door. So the bind you live in is that you are massively attuned to trauma around you, uh which fundamentally means you live exhausted.

A: Yeah.

D: Curious how you live in the middle of that. I might be asking for myself.

A: Yes, that’s true. It is hard for me to rest. And there’s really two reasons for that. One is the hypervigilance about trauma. I feel it, I sense that I see it. But also it’s hard for me just to let my body rest and receive care, because it was so sexualized by my mother. And so there’s a sense in which it’s hard for me just to be kind and to care for myself. It’s hard — my uh, is what I’m talking with my therapist a lot about the past year. When I’m working with clients. It can be a horrific story of sexual abuse. I am at rest. My affect is regulated. When they leave, when I’m done with that session and I have to be with Adam, or be with God, I get disregulated. It’s hard for me to care for me. And be at rest. It may sound like an odd sentence, but I’m at rest in trauma, and I am disregulated when I am caring for my own heart and body.

D: Again. I can only come alongside and say: preach it brother! I think that’s true for many of us who are drawn and called. You know, there’s something that is enlivening as you engage, but also to use a simple word, it’s not just exhausting to deal with people’s heartache, there is some element of that, but it is far more what we are called to have to deal with in our own body. That’s actually what’s more exhausting. You know, I’ll have people say to me when they find out what I do, which I tried to hide most of the time, but when people say, I don’t know how you can listen to all those stories and the answer is I don’t say it to people, but it’s like no, that’s fine, it’s my story. That’s still not a lot of ease in addressing.

A: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean I am so aware of my hunger for and need for care from others. I mean frankly what attracted me so much to the Allender Center and to the offerings that you give, it was partly your teaching Dan because you introduced categories that felt so true to me and yet were new, but it was more than anything, I received care from the leaders there in the context of my story that I had not received before, and my body yearned to return to that community so that I could receive that level of care.

D: Again I just. I delight to hear that. And may it be, may it be. Well, a slight shift if you do not mind. Years ago I was fly fishing with my dear friend John Eldridge and as we sat on the bank of a beautiful river uh he said do you think about glory? And I like no. Do you think about heaven? Sometimes? And then he said what’s the glory that you will one day be given? What’s your reward? What will the rewards? That will be true for Dan B Allender? And it was like shut up! I don’t know, I don’t think about that and I had other words but I’ll just leave it at that. So I’d love to turn it to you. What is the glory that awaits you for How you have lived and what you offer?

A: Yeah, I think of that in two categories. The first is a word that I’m not fond of, which is the word persistence or perseverance. I don’t want my story or an attribute even of my character to be, you know, he is persistent. But it’s true, I mean grit will take you further in life than gifting in so many ways and I mean frankly if we’re being honest uh it’s required grit for me to get connected to you people because I wasn’t always uh you know, it took me three or four times applying to the external ship to be accepted. And uh, and Rachael, you actually factor into this story, you don’t know this. But there was one year that I forgot to apply the deadline. I forgot and and and I emailed the powers that be, you know, and said, I forgot can I still do it? And Rachel wrote back now, I didn’t know Rachael, we have had zero interactions at this time. And, and it was, it was two or three paragraphs and I was sitting next to Caroline when I got this email and I read it and it was so kind and I turned to Caroline. I said this is why I was infuriated because I was like this is why I want to be a part of this group of people because of the kindness of this response to me. She didn’t let me apply, but she saw me and it was kind and it only increased the agony, but nevertheless I had to persist. The one of the most painful experiences of my life was, you know, after you go through this narrative focus trauma certificate program, there are follow up things and one of them is the external ship. They didn’t have NFTC II at the time and my wife was admitted into the externship. And I haven’t been for one year now. She’s a P. A. So like medicine is her thing and I was a therapist and story was my thing. And you know, the viewers can’t see your face, the listeners can’t see your faces, but you’re getting the agony. I mean you have smiles, but I was in agony.

D: I just I can feel it. Yeah,

A: Yeah. So, but I persisted and persevered and that’s not just true. I mean that in many ways my desire for my father to father me to create and I would try and create environments, moments, meals, and set him up to father me and, I persisted in that my whole life because I so long for his fathering. And there was some sweet And good and holy reconciliation and fathering before he died iin 2009, especially 2here we met every Friday at 4:00. And we talked about our story, my story, my relationship with him and he owned so much, which was astonishing to me because you have to remember in my mind, he’s the bad parent and my mom is the good parent. The reality is my mother would never have owned anything and my father in fact did. And he was able to own a lot of his violence towards me and his cruelty and there was repair in the land of the living and that is a gift that I, you know, I just don’t have words for. But I’ve lost my, I don’t even remember your question. I was, I’m off in the weeds here redirect me.

D: I would be honored to redirect because it’s so obvious that it’s something you don’t want to actually think about.

A: My glory, my glory, right? My glory, right. So persistent person. Yes. Persistence is part of it. It’s in revelations somewhere. It’s one of my favorite passages. We will be given a white stone. Those who overcome will be given a white stone and on that stone there will be a name known only between you and the Lord. Now, I don’t know if that’s a word, I don’t know what it is on that stone, but that’s what I hear you asking dan is what’s on that stone and, in my mind, part of what will be on that stone for me is the stories of the people that I have engaged in a way that has brought them freedom and release from bondage. I mean the ways that I have, there are times when I’m done with working with a client or I’m done with an intensive or a group and the work has been so redemptive and holy and it has borne so much fruit. And there’s this simultaneous feeling of immense gratitude that you were the vehicle for something supernatural and at the same time, incredible clarity. That was me doing the work. I did that and no one else did that. I did it. Did God do it? Yes. Did I do it? Yes. I don’t care anymore to tease apart the percentages. They’re both true. And so you feel this sense of overwhelming gratitude and awe and at the same time immense satisfaction that I was, I actually just did what I was put on earth to do and there’s no, that’s what meaning is that gives you meaning beyond meaning. It gives you a sense of what joseph Campbell called bliss. It gives you a sense of I am being Adam.

D: Stunning, thank you. We are nearing an end. But I just, I sort of want to ask Rachel like do you think about the glory you’re gonna one day receive?

R: Sometimes, but I think like most traumatized people who work in trauma fields, I probably think about it more in terms of like, will I have worked hard enough to, will I have been faithful enough. And I think sometimes these kinds of questions play with my sense of, I think I like your right Adam, my sense of meaning. Because I do believe, I 100% believe we are meant to labor with our gifts and our personhood and our stories to steward them in a way that will here like well done. Like good and faithful servant. And I’m trying to lean into those parts of the, especially in a year like this, those parts of being human where it’s like and God dreamed us and created us to play in creation like yes to labor, yes to be a part of creating co-creating. And so sometimes I like to think about what will be the ways I’m seen and known by God, what parts of my name will be there that are certainly showing up in how I bring my gifts to the world but might also be like genuinely just from the delight of God. Like may not have like a too tremendous of a purpose. And I think sometimes it’s good for me to think about those things because they confront my own questions of like am I loved by God beyond what I’m capable of doing for God or with God? And they helped me in those places adam that you’re talking about that I can so relate to where not only do I struggle with care for myself in the wake of offering extravagant care to others, but even question if I’m worthy of it, if I get to have it or if I need to actually be okay with that deprivation. So I try to think about funny things like, you know what part of my name will actually be like. Yeah, you’re really sassy and I kind of made you that way and I deeply delight in that of you. Like how will that be reflected or what will be the textures and the colors and the sensual experience of being in the new heaven and a new earth in the ways we’re most meant to be. And so yes, but I think it’s also hard because it starts to my, my probably more spiritually abusive structures kick in and I think you can’t even be thinking about this, how self-centered, like that you can be thinking about this. So it kind of runs the gamut of all of that. Probably a longer answer than you were anticipating dan.

D: No, I mean, I think you’re reflecting both of you are unquestionably more mature, spiritual relational. I think in really very concrete, like I think part of my reward is at least a shack of some sort and you’re a trout stream. And that I’ll be able to cast a huge trout. I won’t have a barbed end at the end, they will just take the fly and after being caught if indeed I have cast well and there’s no drag on the drift, we’ll chat, not long, but you know,

R: Oh, you’re gonna talk to the trout?

D: The trout is going to talk to me and basically say things you know, look, another foot or two would have given me a little better shot, but I did take it largely for you. Yeah, so I mean that’s where I start going, oh, I am really anticipating eternity. Yeah, I want to be with Jesus, but I kind of want to be with Jesus on a trout stream, but I want to interact with trout. I kiss each one I catch. But, as long as we have this breath of, yes, I want a new name, I want my new name, but I also want to place by a trout stream. I’m not going to have that in this life. And so we’ll, we’ll come back to this perhaps at another time to ask again what is the glory you will one day receive, but we’ll leave it at that juncture to say Adam, thank you, thank you. Thank you for walking us in and to underscore the rich glory of your podcasts, invites people regularly to engage story with a sense of both heartbroken but nonetheless deep awe and honor and eventually delight and you have given us that privilege today. So thank you. Thank you.

A: You’re welcome. It’s been a joy to be with you.

R: Adam. I do remember, I do remember that period of time and you reaching out to see if there was still time to apply. And I do. I remember feeling the agony of that because I knew we were where we were in the process. We weren’t going to be able to have more spots, but I knew how disappointing and agonizing it is when we have our own fragmentation and missed an opportunity that we’ve been waiting for and have been persistent in. And so I remember thinking, you know, it takes a lot of courage to say no to someone when you want to say yes. And I’m just trying to hold your mind and to try to honor like to truly honor your desire and to honor that you even reached out to ask because it could have been easy just to say, mm I missed it. I’ll wait till next year. So.

A: Yeah. And that’s what I felt when I read your response, I felt pastored. I felt shepherded in my desire but also in my disappointment. I mean and it was again, it was just so agonizing to be that well cared for. [laughs]