Since I was little child, I always believe in some kind of Higher Power. Lucky for me, it has shifted and changed over the years.
My parents raised me as a casual Methodist. We attended church each Sunday until I was around eleven. I sang in the children’s choir and sneaked cookies and coffee after what I considered to be boring Sunday school classes and sermons, always itchy in my dress and tights.
It was a community thing more so than a hyper-religious thing. I look back on those Sundays fondly. I had many friends and the church was calm and casual and felt very warm and safe. But I don’t remember it ever feeling about Jesus. It felt more about family and love.
Not that I have anything against Jesus. In fact, I love Jesus, but perhaps not in the way that people assume one might love Him. Or how people think you’re supposed to love HIm.
I remember praying a lot as a child. I talked to God before bed. For reasons I won’t yet get into, I was a pretty lost and confused child, and by the time puberty rolled around I was filled with anxiety and crippling self-consciousness and a complete lack of guidance and tools for dealing with feelings. I had learned to check out through food and sugar and television and make-believe. So I talked to God. I asked him to make my life better and easier. I begged him to make me prettier, to clear up my burgeoning acne, to make boys like me, to make my friends not hurt my feelings. None of what I prayed for seemed to come true, but I strongly believed that God was still listening. And yet it wasn’t really Jesus. It felt more like a benevolent being that was watching over me and didn’t mind listening to my childish wanting.
I spiraled into years of drug and alcohol abuse starting around age fourteen. It was a great escape, an exhilarating relief, a self-medicating journey that would eventually lead me to a self-actualizing and healing journey and to a God I could really play ball with. At that time, a mixed teenager desperate for someone to help me feel okay and understand, I didn’t stop believing in God, but I do think I stopped praying. And I did what most teenagers do – I renounced any and all organized religion and deemed all who had convictions of religious faith to be idiots and bigots and Republicans. (My parents.) Those years were a blur of heightened ups and downs and moments of joy and discovery and immense suffering and destruction. It was a time of music and smoke and sex and deep depression. I was always stoned and often drunk and very lost but always searching. I wasn’t entirely bitter. I believed in something. I wanted something more. I got really into yoga around fifteen and sixteen, and that connected to me back to the idea that there was something greater than me and my selfish pain. It was the only thing besides drugs that made me feel truly at peace. Looking back, God was actually everywhere. In music. In the books I read. In the refusal to give up completely. But I didn’t really know or understand. I still thought the Answer had become whatever I could shove into my body. But not for long.
When I finally made it to the shore of recovery for the first time at age nineteen, I started to think about God again. I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and was introduced to the 12 steps. The idea of God didn’t scare me when I first read the steps. But I didn’t understand what it meant to “come to believe in a Higher Power that could restore me to sanity” (step 2) or “turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood Him” (step 3.) I didn’t understand what those steps meant at the time, but I let my sponsor take me through them nevertheless. I thought it was as simple as saying, “sure I believe in God. Let’s do this.” It wasn’t.
From nineteen to twenty-five I vacillated between periods of sobriety and relapse. I had at various times six months and eighteen months and 30 months sober. I went to meetings and went through the steps with my sponsor. I sponsored other girls here and there. I thought I had faith. I thought I had courage. I thought I was doing it right. Really, I was just substituting alcohol and drugs for other obsessions: sex, relationships, food, money, school, clothes, smoking, perfectionism. I spent more time obsessing about boyfriends and toxic relationships or my weight and latest diet than surrendering to a God of my understanding. I still fundamentally believed that I had to control and manage my life. And there was always deep within me an unsettled anxiety and fear that nothing was okay. I couldn’t shake it, no matter how many meetings I went to. I didn’t realize that there was still a world of trauma beneath the surface that had no space to be addressed so long as I kept substituting my addiction for other unhealthy behaviors and refusing to let go of control.
I was also just a kid. What did I know? I was doing the best I could with what I knew and understood at the time. I thought I was supposed to do well in school and find a nice guy and look pretty and be skinny and I’d eventually get married and have babies and live happily ever after. Ha. Not so.
Around 24, I started to hate God. I had developed severe chronic pain in my body and suffered daily with debilitating aches and sharp burning from my neck to my toes. At the time, I thought I was sick. I thought I had autoimmune diseases or spinal deterioration or severe damage to ligaments and tendons and scar tissue. I had been in car accidents and had fallen down stairs and had injured myself running. I thought my body was broken. I would later discover that my pain was directly related to my emotional suffering and trauma, but at the time I had no clue. Again, what did I know? Just a kid.
I decided I was a victim and that God was punishing me and that I would never be okay. I thought, what is the point of living if I am going to be in pain each day and filled with self-hatred and self-pity and despair? I hated my entire world. It was bizarre, actually, because looking back there was so much to be joyous about, and yet my soul was dirty. My alcoholism was creeping back in due to my lack of faith and toxic attitude. I started to drink again. Got addicted to opiates again. Spent all my money on pills and cocaine. Slept around. Drove drunk. Hated myself. Wanted to die. The whole nine yards.
That went on for a few months. It wasn’t sustainable. Had I continued, I surely would have died or ended up in jail or some sort of institution. I am blessed beyond measure that I never killed someone while driving under the influence and didn’t overdose on pills.
See, I thought it was God doing this to me. But it wasn’t. It was me doing this to me. My small sense of self, my battered inner child, my disease of alcoholism, my ego – whatever you want to call it. It wasn’t my authentic self, my soul, my God. That was actually there all along, my shining soul, though I had shoved it far away into a corner where I couldn’t see or hear or feel it.
Addiction is like that. It’s like pouring heaps and heaps of black sludge and tar and dirt and shit over our shiny diamond souls until they’re so buried we think they’re gone. We get confused. We think we’re empty and broken beyond repair. I really believed that. I really truly deeply believed for a time that life was hopeless. I thought, if the drugs can’t kill me, I’ll hang myself with a jump rope. I even had a plan. I came to find though, that the soul is never gone, and we are never broken beyond repair. We just have to be willing to clean out all that goop in order to get back in touch with it. It takes work. Who wants to shovel their own shit? Not me. And I resisted it for a while, just like anyone would. But damn, is it worth it. I’m so thankful I was willing.
I don’t know why I was lucky enough to get sober again. I don’t know if it was sheer determination or God’s grace or dumb luck or coincidence. Probably all of that. Or maybe it was meant to be. Or maybe it just worked out that way. Who knows. Doesn’t matter. I do know that in the miserable depths of addiction I got on my knees and asked God to help me. I reached out to my sponsor and asked her to help me. I confessed to my parents what was happening – again – and asked them to help me. And they all did.
And I started to get really interested in building a new God and, as they say in the rooms, finding a faith that works. I read countless books on various forms of spirituality and religion and holistic health self-care. I started meditating and praying on a daily basis. I started sharing with fellow women the quite disturbing thoughts and feelings I had about myself. I went through the steps again with my sponsor. I didn’t get into any sort of romantic or sexual relationship. I sought help for my eating disorder and began to heal from chronic pain. I went for runs and long walks. I went to yoga. I wrote like crazy in journals. I did some therapy. I spent a lot of time alone. In slow increments, my life began to transform. There was this shift after a year. Then again after two years. Then three. Now four. And still each day. At first, it was like I could literally feel that black goop and heaping piles of dirt and shit begin to dislodge. A snake had uncoiled itself from around my heart and throat. I started to breathe better. I could sit a little more comfortably in my skin. I wasn’t so angry. I found, in fact, that I was actually quite sad. Tears seeped through my eyes with delicate grace. It was a tremendous relief to feel grief instead of rage. It was a tremendous relief to feel period. Then I started to feel other things, like joy. I started to feel so deeply joyful and alive and energetic and happy for no reason. I felt at times like I glowed and radiated love. I would still get angry. And sad. And sometimes terrified and enraged. I would still sometimes revert back to hating myself. Even today, once in a while, I feel that old self-hatred. But it doesn’t stick. Because my God is HUGE. My faith is enormous and always larger than my fear and small sense of self. My faith is real. And it’s awesome.
The road to recovery is rocky and brutal and glorious and exhilarating. It’s the most wonderful thing I have ever done. It is a road to self-discovery and self-love and limitless expansion of our hearts and souls and perception. I have gone from vehemently hating myself to absolutely loving myself. From being terrified of everything to having unshakeable faith that I am being carried through all of life’s difficulties. From thinking I have to figure everything out to relying on something larger than me to infuse me with the courage to let go.
I guess you could say, I am reborn. In the way I believed Jesus would be proud of. Not in a kooky way. Not in some religious, fundamental, zealous, righteous way. In a human way. The way we all deserve to be – no matter what kind of faith we practice or God we build.