Stuck

I feel a bit like Flick in “A Christmas Story” – tongue frozen to the pole, squealing because I can’t get unstuck. Unfortunately, squealing doesn’t do much to remove my tongue from the pole.

And it’s not as if I’m stuck in a bad way. Like I said in my last post, I am in a good (and boring) place. This is very different than being stuck in an anorexic mind rut and unable to get out. I feel stuck in a creative sense.

I can’t write, can’t draw, can’t paint. There are things I want and need to say, to get out on paper in one way or another, but they are behind a wall.

One of the things I have always feared about seeking mental health is losing my creativity. The link between creativity and “madness” is well researched. And so I’ve wondered if by lessening the effects of my abnormal brain chemistry, I’ve also lessened the effects of my creativity.

When I was truly sick, I could not stop writing. I drew everything. I was a creative force to be reckoned with.

And now? I’ve been out of treatment almost six months and I feel decidedly uncreative. I want to SCREAM I feel so uncreative. I want that creativity back. The ability to put a picture to an emotion, the ability to turn a phrase. I want to sit down and write and write and write and know that at the end of it I’ve done more than just describe what I did today. (Which, most days, involves amazon instant video and meals and snacks.)

I want it back. I want it so desperately that I am almost willing to entertain the idea of being “sick” again. Because “sick” = “creative”.

I know, logically, that it doesn’t. I know that I have more potential for creativity when I’m well, when all the neurons are firing, when my brain isn’t constantly under siege from malnutrition or moods.

I know that my eating disorder wasn’t the most exciting thing about me. I know.

I just feel so damned boring being well.

Advertisements

A Glimpse into the Writer’s Life

I just finished writing and scheduling my first post for my fancy, almost professional-ish blog over at HealthyPlace.  Despite the fact that they, too, use a WordPress platform, I found myself completely at a loss for how to correctly insert an image with the proper margins.  I’m still not sure it’s right.  Whatever.

The bells for class changes are still going off at the middle school across the street, which I find odd, because it is Christmas Eve and no one is at school.  Darned teachers get two weeks off at Christmas — I was lucky to get today and tomorrow!  One day I will have such a job.

Or, maybe, I’ll just keep up this writing thing.  This morning has been lovely.  I woke up, goofed around online for a while, then came downstairs to focus.  I’m in slippers and a robe and I was “working.” I’m pretty sure this whole “writing” thing is where it’s at.  One of my goals this winter is to research other avenues for publication.  I would like to build a resume that showcases some of my writing skills, so in the event that I’m in need of a job, I can find one I might actually like, not just find myself pushing papers in some office.

My head and heart are full of big dreams and grand schemes today.  

And while I’d be lying to say that I’m not nervous about the holiday and my sister’s birthday and all the food, one thing is already clear:  this year is far better – recovery is far better – than it has been in years. 

Desire of my Heart

There has been one constant through my years.  One thing that was always there through suicidal depressions, upheaval at home, trauma, high-flying manias, new jobs and new apartments, years of an eating disorder and treatment.  One thing that I have always loved beyond my ability to express and one thing that I have always wanted more than anything else.

I want to write.

I have, at times, entertained this as a career option.  I have investigated writing programs, investigated ways to make this thing pay the bills.  I always come back to the same thing:  I’m just not good enough.  Even if I could, by some miracle, get paid for my writing, I’d probably be writing about things I hardly care about:  school board meetings, political debates, random local policies. 

I want to write about things I care about.  I want to write and make people outside this thing understand the torture that we with eating disorders live with every day.  I want to write and encourage people out of the wilderness, into a land flowing with milk and honey and macaroni and cheese and dessert.  I want to do all of this, of course, while firmly remaining planted in my eating disorder.

I thought about finding a way to be a travel writer.  The premise being that I would travel to exotic places, write reviews of hotels and restaurants (ha!), show people the beauty that exists outside their little corner of the world and encourage them to explore on their own.  Obviously, I cannot possibly write about exotic locations if I never actually go there.  I cannot write about places I have never been.  I have to pack the bags, pull out the passport and step foot into the unknown.

So how could I possibly write about the things I care about if I’m not willing to step foot outside my “comfortable” eating disordered existence?  How can I make people understand my experience if I am still in the experience, where it is too raw, too emotional, too muddled to put words to?  How can I encourage people to travel to a recovery that I have never seen and never experienced?

Just the thought of packing those proverbial bags (or, perhaps, in this case – throwing some of them out) and traveling with no guide map and no assurance of arrival is terrifying.  So, too, is the idea of being lost and confused and out of my element for days or weeks or months (or years) at a time. 

All for the hope that the place I land is better than the place I am.

 

So I want to write – but do I want it enough? 

Before you ask, YES, I’m still on my meds

This post is going to be utterly incomprehensible.

My brain is running a million miles a minute, focusing on everything and nothing.  My head pounds.  My stomach growls.  My hands shake and tremor.  My feet tap an anxious rhythm, one that betrays my exterior.

I have spent the past two weeks trying to hang on despite a depression that threatened again and again to land me in the hospital once more.  And now, on the flip side, my body still sluggish, my thoughts still dark, this race of energy appears.  I am up at all hours of the night, thinking, writing, composing in my head.  None of it makes it to paper because I am too exhausted and depressed to move my body and get my computer.  I am up in the middle of the night in near panic, sure that my brain is being pulled in two, that there are no way these racing, hyperproductive thoughts can coexist with the thoughts of death and destruction.

Tired but wired.

This is a phenomena that has plagued me through school, the full extent of its meaning not hitting until yesterday afternoon when I sat in a Books A Million reading.  Reading and trying to decide whether my psychiatrist’s latest diagnosis is at all valid.  No family history.  Fewer than three hypomanic episodes.  Majority of the time spent in crippling depression.  Surely, he’s wrong.

As it turns out, the symptoms still match.  It’s not uncommon to spend less than 1% of the time in hypomanic episodes.  Heredity plays a large part, but is by no means 100% the cause.  The majority of those with bipolar II will spend more time depressed.  And more and more research is showing that mixed episodes will occur not just in bipolar I, but bipolar II as well.

I tried to craft this entire post without ever mentioning the phrase “bipolar” — I have, in fact, known for years that it is a very strong possibility given my history.  My therapist in college mentioned the possibility.  The psychiatrist in Florida maintained a “rule-out” diagnosis on my forms for my entire stay at Renfrew.  I have, on my own, mapped my moods across months and years, figured out triggers for my hypomanic episodes, found ways to maintain a sufficient level of functioning when I am at my most depressed.  But I still don’t like the label.

And I know it’s just a quick way to explain how my brain is wired.  It’s a way to explain to multiple doctors and therapists and whoever else the way that my brain works, why it flips so often from dreams of writingandlovingandmakingadifferenceintheworld to dark visions of razor blades and bottles and pills.  It’s a starting point in figuring out what sort of cocktail of drugs I’ll need to be on for the rest of life just to maintain some grip on sanity (not to mention recovery).

My head is screaming.  My body is tired.  I feel like I am but an observer, watching my life spiral out of control and wondering how the heck the stop the seemingly unstoppable turn of events.

Throughout this, I am aware that my ED and moods play off each other.  Nothing (historically) is more likely to send me into a hypomanic episode than starving and lacking sleep.  Depression leads to loss of appetite.  Prolonged starvation begins to affect my sleep, spinning it from the 12 hours a night of depression to the 3 or 4 broken hours of sleep I can manage when I am fully entrenched in my ED.  Finally, my brain short-circuits and I experience the worst of both worlds – depression mixed with agitated anxiety and extreme energy mixed with a brain that is constantly plotting the next skipped meal, the next pound lost.

So when I say that I have no idea how to stop this downward spiral, that’s not entirely true.

Dinner might be a start.

The Long Road to the Kingdom, Part 3

Thanks for your continued support as I write out this disturbingly long story, friends. It’s so lovely to open my e-mail and see your comments and know that you survived the entire post!

If you’re just joining us, be sure to catch Parts One and Two before reading any further.

Finally, after much ado and entirely too long a break – the story of my engagement.

———

From the very beginning, my relationship with Steven was dysfunctional. Neither of us was in a place to be even casually dating – he was depressed and drinking too much, I was depressed, drinking too much, and battling the worst (to that point) occurrence of my eating disorder. I wanted very much die, but was quickly intoxicated by his kind words, knowing glances, gentle demeanor, and the fact that he was not at all scared of my crazy. I was his reason to live, he was my reason to eat (and therefore live), and we very suddenly found ourselves enmeshed and codependent.

I say this all very matter-of-factly only because hindsight is 20/20. At the time, I thought this was the healthiest relationship I had ever been in and grew increasingly fond of Steven despite my attempts to never ever ever fall for a boy ever again. I can look back on this beginning time rather fondly and I still very much love that boy.

After our first real date

It was that boy that hooked up a webcam to his computer so we could play Risk once a week, despite living 200 miles apart. It was that boy who cried when he called to tell me that one of our turtles had died. It was that boy who lay next to me in bed and kissed the scars on my abdomen after realizing they were self-inflicted.

Less than two years later, he would be the cause of the open wounds and would barely acknowledge me when I asked if he had butterfly bandages to try and reduce the scarring.

We met through a mutual friend – and when I say “mutual friend,” I mean my best friend, his ex. To be fair, my best friend is the one who introduced me to her ex, in part because I think she was simply tired of hearing the two of us whine to her about our love life woes. She gave us permission to date (and then rescinded it after two months, but that’s a different story) and we did so.

I don’t know that the details are necessary. I loved him fiercely. I gave him everything and trusted him with my entire person. It was months before I could do so and I spent much of the early part of our relationship in tears, sure that he would use me and leave me as was the pattern in my relationships up to that point. It was a risk and one that paid off, at least for a time.

We got engaged quickly, after only six months of dating. In month seven, he withdrew from school due to his depression. In month eight, I dropped all my classes save for one due to a crippling depression that prevented me from moving from the bed. (As it turns out, staying in bed was very, very fun at times. And very, very awkward for the roommate that shared a wall with me.)

On our engagement trip to a B & B in West Virginia

I met his family, he met mine. We started planning a wedding to follow a long engagement. In May of 2007, shortly after our one year anniversary, we attended the wedding of a friend of mine and stayed in a hotel in a small town in South Carolina. As we were packing up to leave the morning after the festivities, I found it: a baggie of weed, a lighter, some papers.

Steven thought I was overreacting when I told him how upset I was. Before we ever started dating, I told him that I never again wanted to date someone who did drugs. The guy I “dated” (slept with on a regular basis) before him was a pothead and a drug dealer. I constantly felt like I was playing second fiddle to an addiction. For Steven to start doing drugs felt like a personal attack and betrayal.

The following months are a blur of arguments, deals, more arguments and my move to the city where he lived. Shortly after I moved there, he took me to a party with his friends and then abandoned me to go and smoke with them upstairs. And yet, he was still sweet and loving, curling up next to me as my untreated depression left me in bed for days at a time. Unfortunately, we were both so emotionally stunted that he had no real way to comfort me except physically. While the sex was amazing (Seriously. AMAZING.), it did nothing to comfort the ache of my heart that multiplied by leaps and bounds when I found his profile on a dating site.

Shortly after Christmas, I found e-mails on his computers sending nude or nearly nude photos back and forth between he and other women. It was not the first time. I was heart-broken. This was the man I was sure I would marry. The man that I intended to see at the end of the aisle in a church that was already booked wearing a dress I had already bought.

I left him the ring and a note asking him to call me when he grew up.

We stopped talking for weeks, tried to make it work, had make-up sex and break-up sex and “what the hell do you do when you love the person but can’t figure out how to make it work” sex and eventually called it quits. He was spending more time with his drug dealer than me and I couldn’t do it any longer. I can only assume that it was the Holy Spirit that helped me realize in that moment that I was worth more than what he was giving me.

I love this photo, but erm, won't tell you why

I never found a church when I moved to his city, and never gave much of a thought to church – until I broke up with him. I was working for a Christian company, where church was part of the culture and regular attendance was practically expected of the employees. Company meetings began with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer. I thought about church, about God, about what I had grown up with. I didn’t particularly care about Him, but showed up on Easter Sunday anyway to appease my mother.  I didn’t know what God had to do with anything, though I craved the peace and community that I saw amongst my Christian friends.

The truth is I was hurt and I was angry. After finally breaking up with Steven for good, I became so angry that it began to eat at me from the inside out. I drank heavily. I ran mile after mile. I watched more movies on Netflix than I could count. None of made the hurt and anger any better. I couldn’t take it any longer and I had bottles of pills and liquor prepared to take it all away.

I can’t be sure what caused me to pause that night when I came up with my plan – most likely the Holy Spirit again. My hand throbbed from where I punched the wall and bloodied it and I knew I couldn’t live one more day with this anger. The anger had to go or I had to go.

God, I said. IF you exist, you have to take this anger. I can’t do it any more. You have to take it or I am killing myself tomorrow.

It was a ballsy prayer – IF you exist. IF you care. IF you are capable.

He exists. He cares. He is capable.

I woke up the next morning completely at peace. I held no anger toward Steven, no ill will. I wanted him to be happy and I wanted to know this God that cured me of the anger and heartache that no substance could.

I bought a Bible and started reading.

———-

Just one final installment to come: how I found a home.

Gallery

Today, I thought I’d share with you some of the art that I’ve been doing in my journals throughout my recovery.  I’ll try to post them in chronological order, but know that not all of my recovery art is represented here.  Some of the more painful ones aren’t posted and some, I’ll admit, I’ve even trashed.  Also, please excuse the poor lighting — these were taken on my phone.  And, just to keep things interesting, a poem.

This is a poem that I wrote towards the end of my time in residential in a group on self-esteem.  I forget the actual prompt, though it may have been as basic as “write a poem about your self-esteem.”

Esteem

Stronger than she knows,
but she’d never believe it.

Walls built up
around her heart
and her head.
The positive messages
can’t get in
for all the shit
she plays to herself
over and over again.

Stronger than she knows,
if she’d only believe it.

Walls that need sledgehammers,
pickaxes,
or a weapon stronger
than twenty years
of self-destructive talk.
Walls that can only be
torn down
with as much work
as they required to build.

Stronger than she knows,
how I hope she’ll believe it.

Walls so strong only
Love
will prevail.
Years of self-hatred
combatted with
years of positive messages
from those around her,
until one day
She tells it
to herself.

Adventures in Recovery & a Poem

Hi there, blog world. I’ve been neglecting you lately. Oh, how I wish I had remembered to bring my computer on my recent road trip with my mother to upstate New York. The trip provided a lot of fodder for blogging, none the least of which was trying to find acceptable food choices en route. The first night, after stating no fewer than a dozen times the ONE restaurant I could wrap my head around eating in, my mother asked if McDonald’s was okay for dinner. McDonald’s?!  Really?!  The next few days are a blur of grilled chicken salads. I can’t wait to see what my dietitian says about my food logs for the trip. They basically boil down to:

Breakfast – cereal and yogurt
Lunch – salad and grilled chicken
Dinner – salad and grilled chicken
Snacks – granola bars and yogurt (and a few cookies)

The rare exception was last night, when my mother said she wanted to avoid going out to a restaurant (fine by me) and wanted to bring dinner back to the hotel room. Would it be okay, she asked, if we went to the gas station around the corner. In her defense, it was a gas station that had a sub shop in it, but it was still a gas station. Thankfully, said gas station also had beer, thereby making the entire experience far more enjoyable.  A wise woman once said that liquid calories are still calories and if a drink makes the rest of the meal easier, by golly, do it already.  (However, she did not condone drinking, especially not if you are under 21 – and neither do I.)

I’m sure there are grander life lessons to be learned from this trip, but for me, I’m just happy I survived 27 hours in the car with my mother.   And hopefully at tomorrow’s weigh-in, I won’t find out that I quadrupled in size over the past four days.  Because somehow, that still matters to me — and I hate that it still matters.  Some things never change.

Ready for a poem, friends?  This one was initially meant to be a sonnet, I think, but I abandoned that for a longer poem.  Brevity is not one of my strengths.  Perhaps you’ve noticed?

P.S.  If I never see a piece of chicken again, it’s too soon.

Like a teenage boy, you shift your body
closer and closer to mine.
The air carries with it a weight of melancholy
that pierces my heart as your fingers trace the line
of the scar on my chest.
And your touch is so seductive, at first,
that I do not notice that your hand comes to rest
over the one place I asked you never to touch.
I always gave you anything you wanted
of my friends, my money, my days.
The landscape was always haunted
by you and that was okay as long as you stayed away

from this.

But before I can scream and tell you stop,
your hands dig deep and rip it apart –
Shredding between your fingers,
the very essence of me and my heart.

Hump Day Poetry

Sorry I’ve been so quiet in the blogosphere since returning home. Transitioning from residential to partial-hospitalization is far more difficult than I was anticipating and there have been times when I wonder if I shouldn’t have stayed in Florida another week or two. To that point, I haven’t had a lot to say that is blog-worthy. Recovery is HARD. Dealing with trauma is HARD. Eating my meal plan is HARD. “Keeping myself safe” (aka not engaging in self-harm) is HARD.

Even my journaling has been lacking lately, as I’m struggling to put into words what exactly is going on in this time in my life. So today, you — faithful blog readers — get a poem. This will no doubt be the first of a many-part series. I wrote a LOT of poetry in treatment – some good, some crappy, some mediocre. You guys get to be my guinea pigs. I’d love your feedback. This particular poem was a challenge from a friend in treatment: write a poem with the repeated line, “the time somebody told me.”

We were lying in bed
gaze fixed on each other
bodies melting into
one another in a
comfortable, familiar way —
the time somebody told me
he loved me.

He was on one knee
candles surrounding him,
champagne chilling for celebration,
waiting patiently for my reply —
the time somebody told me
he wanted me for his wife.

I found the baggie
and the lighter
the day after their wedding
and we sat in
stony silence
the time somebody told me
he had been lying for months.

We were lying in bed
gaze fixed on the wall,
the space between us
growing
the silence filling the gap
until
the last time somebody told me
he loved me.

The Long Road to the Kingdom, Part 2

(Erm, I didn’t really say “tomorrow” did I?  Oops.  Funny week, long entry, etc. etc.  This series is turning out to be a three or four parter.  You can find part one HERE.)

God bless all of you who actually read Part One – and even commented!  Because I’m wordy, and everything seems important, these are longer than I might have anticipated.  On to Part Two, wherein God pursues me with words.

————————————————————————-

The same year that I began going to Catholic Mass, I also finally shared my story with a long-time friend.  She was precious and understanding and never once looked at me like I was insane.  She looked at me like a beautiful, broken, daughter of God who was struggling to find her way.  That year for Christmas, she gave me Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What.  It sat on my bookshelf, untouched for months, until one of the many nights that year when I found myself up at four in the morning, with no desire or ability to write my assignments for class.

I was captivated by his writing – he wrote with an urgency and an understanding.  He wrote like I thought – in long, muddled sentences that struggled to express exactly the core thing but expressed it nonetheless.  By the end of chapter two, Miller tells God that He doesn’t exist.  I was floored.  Finally, on page 82 there was this:

 

“War is complicated; it isn’t black and white.  That is what the Bible teaches.  And I thought about that for a long time and realized it meant all our civilizations, our personalities, our families, our souls, are walking through the wreckage of a war, running from Tokyo, running from Hiroshima, our mouths gaping, the fire burning behind us, our wounds wet with blood and muddied with ash.  This is Sarajevo all over again, only this time it’s the walls of our hearts that are littered with bullet holes, it’s our souls that are feeling the aftershock.”

The last sentence of that passage hurts my heart as much today as it did the first time that I read it almost six years ago.  “This guy gets it,” I thought.  My heart was shattered and broken in a hundred places, but I always assumed I was alone in feeling that.  Or, at the very least, assumed I was alone in the church in feeling that.  But here was a man who was well-respected in Christian circles, who very much believes in the man and message of Jesus Christ – admitting these feelings.  Maybe I wasn’t alone after all – and maybe my struggles weren’t indicative of a lack of faith or trust or anything else on my part.  Maybe my struggles were completely normal and human.

I finished the book and put it back on the bookshelf, but that sentence stayed with me.  The idea that Miller develops – that maybe the formulas and rituals we are raised to believe lead to God actually do more to separate us – stuck with me as well.  Miller talked about relationship with God.  I wasn’t sold immediately, but I began to wonder if maybe God did care about my mess and perhaps others might care, too.

My junior year of college, I lived with two girls that I had gone through youth group with.  Both were still heavily involved in the church and had a number of Christian friends, who were often coming over.  It was a strange year – being surrounded by women who obviously loved the Lord and who knew that I had too, and who loved me in spite of the string of guys who were in and out, in spite of the newly empty bottles of wine each morning, in spite of the giant, terrible mistakes I made.  I couldn’t understand how they could love and continue to engage me so freely.  They rarely tried to convince me that I needed to go back to the church or find Jesus or anything of the sort, but their actions spoke louder than those words ever could have.

Two nights after the event which I do not call rape because I still maintain it was my fault even though there was no way I could have consented and any cour twould call it rape, they invited me to a youth event.  They had watched me lay on the sofa all weekend, doing little else but sleep and drink and more than anything, I think, wanted to get me out and force me into human contact. I, figuring that my weekend could not possibly get any worse, agreed.

I stayed in the back of the church the most of the time, not wanting to even pretend to praise God after what I’d gone through, but fully aware that God could still change these kids’ lives.  When the youth pastor took the stage to speak, I settled in and warmed up for plenty of eye rolling.  I’d survived six years in youth group and knew all the cheesy “True Love Waits” and “God Loves You” schlock that usually came in youth group teaching.  I was not prepared for the message he gave.  Actually, I remember very little of the message, as I was choking back tears the entire time.  There were piles of luggage on the stage – baggage that he encouraged us to hand over to God.  Cliched, perhaps, but the part that shocked me was the names that he gave to the baggage.  In the middle of a church, this man stated out loud that his students might be struggling with sexual promiscuity, eating disorders, self-injury, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and all manner of “junk.”

He gets it, I thought.  He. Freaking. Gets it. And then I thought, Wait.  If he’s calling it out, then I must not be the only one feeling this way.  And he’s saying that God doesn’t care how badly I’ve screwed it up or how badly I hurt.  He still wants me.

That idea was new, shocking, and nothing that I’d ever really heard.  Before that moment, the only thing I heard when people discussed sin was condemnation.  And yes, there is condemnation for those who sin and do not repent and accept the gift of grace – but the kind of condemnation I was accustomed to hearing played right into my all-or-nothing thinking.  I had sinned once and now I was marred – I would never be good enough for God and He was tired of cleaning up my messes.  But that is not the case at all!  Here was a pastor telling this group of students, that even if they were messing up in really big ways, it was okay.  It could be redeemed.  God still wanted them.  Still wanted me.

Again – I heard this message and stuck it on the proverbial bookshelf.  I continued to drink, smoke, starve, and do plenty of other sordid things.  I got back together with the guy I was dating, then got my heart shattered.  I got a little too friendly with a guy who would wind up stalking me.  I made an A in a nutrition class by lying about what I ate.  I cried for weeks.  I met the man who would become my fiance’.  I let him feed me and tell me I was beautiful while I struggled with gaining necessary weight.  I made plans for my senior year and spent the summer of my 21st birthday drinking, hiking, camping, and letting myself fall in love.

Senior year was full of highs and lows.  I got engaged and S did a wonderful job at surprising me with the ring.  I completely withdrew from school because my depression was so severe that even weekly counseling and high doses of antidepressants couldn’t drag me from bed.  I struggled to maintain a job and pay the bills.  I met the fiancé’s family and was immediately accepted as one of theirs.

Small, subtle shifts in my beliefs began to occur.  When S and I started talking about having a family, I asked if we would raise them in the church.  I asked and if he’d said no, it would have been a deal breaker.  When we got engaged, I wanted us to do premarital counseling with a Christian pastor and I wanted us to pray.  When I visited his place on weekends, I would visit churches while he worked on Sundays.

We started planning a wedding and a life.  I applied and was accepted to graduate school and secured an internship as a grant writer in the city where he lived.  I spent the summer preparing to move and begin a life with the man I loved.

Over that summer, I read a book, which I can only assume was given to me by the same friend who gave me the Donald Miller book two years before.  I read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell.  It is, to this day, the book that I credit with completely changing my views on God.  Bell had two major points:

1.  Doctrine is a jumping-off point for understanding God.

2.  All Truth and Beauty come from God – the world and God are not mutually exclusive.

And while the first point was big (an acknowledgment that I did not have to buy my childhood church’s theology hook, line, and sinker), it was the second that had the most relevance to me as an academic and critical thinker.  God was the author of ALL truth – science was not in opposition to God.  Literature was not in opposition to God.  Secular nonprofits were not in opposition to God.  Fighting for the oppressed was not in opposition to God.  I got excited about the possibility of a God so big that He could scatter truth everywhere – a God who was not so tightly boxed in and who might be able to deal with my and my past and present.

I got excited about the idea of finding a church in my new city where my fiance’ and I could explore this God together.  We agreed to start looking for a church as soon as I moved.

I moved to Raleigh in July.

By August, it was all falling apart.

————————————————————————–

Stay tuned Part 3 – the down and dirty story of my engagement and how I finally began to believe in God again.

The Long Road to the Kingdom, Part 1

I generally do very poorly with open-ended assignments or questions. My counselor asked me on Monday to “tell [her] about relapsing — what does it look like” and I proceeded to stare blankly at her for a solid 30 seconds. I finally managed to speak up and tell her that I am happy to answer questions about what this relapse is entailing, but I, in general, need specific points you want me talk on because I do not do well to prioritize and organize information on my own, especially when my brain is half-starved.

So when Sarah left a comment on my first day’s entry and said she wanted to know more about me, I stared blankly at the computer for a solid 30 seconds. And continued to stare blankly for the next forty minutes or so, until I finally decided I needed to pare the assignment down a little. I knew what I didn’t want to talk about: my eating disorder, my alcohol abuse, my self-injury, my rape. I know that there are probably a lot of unanswered questions around all of these things, and while I do at some point want to give a more complete picture of my struggle, I am really trying to find myself and who I am outside of all that.

Finally, I realized that there is actually something I would very much like to see all of you write about, so this is both a way for me to tell my own story and a challenge for you to write your own. One of the things I love most about our God is the way that cares and seeks after each of us individually. Nobody’s story of faith is the same, so while I know that most of you are believers, I don’t have any idea of how you came to be that way. It’s something I’m genuinely curious about — how you came to know God, how you continue to grow in your knowing Him, and how things have changed since that moment that you decided to take on His yoke. So here is my [abbreviated] story. I can’t wait to hear yours.

—–

I was raised in the church – literally. I was there at least three times a week and spent as much time in the halls of that old church as I did in my own bedroom. I should be clear and state that I wasn’t always happy about it. More than once, the precious souls in children’s church had to deal with my screaming and crying because I wanted my mother (I actually have memory of this), and there was one Sunday where I was forced to go to church in my pajamas because we were going, dang it, whether you get dressed or not, young lady.

I spent the years from birth to 11 at a very traditional United Methodist Church. And, children’s church and pajama day aside, I really did love it. I sang in the children’s choir, drank lemonade at the covered dish luncheons, earned girl scout badges in the small brown building next to the playground. When I was 11, my parents decided that the church we were attending was too far away – we had moved when I was four, but continued to make the half-hour commute multiple days each week. The commute wasn’t the issue, though. I was just about to start middle school and my mother wanted me to be in youth group with the same people I was in class with. She was very serious about my being able to look around the classroom and know who the other Christians were so I could know that I was not alone in facing peer pressure, etc. (This theory might have gone over better if half the kids in my youth group weren’t drinking, doing drugs, and having sex by ninth grade – but that’s an entirely different story.)

I wasn’t particularly happy about this new, contemporary church. I missed the hymnals, stained glass, and wooden pews of my first church and furthermore, didn’t really fit in with my youth group. The same social strata that existed in my middle school and high school existed in my youth group — I was an outcast at school and in the church. I still believed, fiercely, and tried to find a place – I sang in the adult choir, watched kids in the nursery, ran the prayer club at my school, went on missions trips every year. I “became” a Christian at age 12 – which is to say that I “asked Jesus into my heart,” a phrase which still confuses me to this day.

Not long after that confession of faith, I began to struggle in ways that nobody was primed to look for. The depression, the disordered eating, the self-injury: nobody expected these things from the first chair flautist with straight A’s and plans to go to Harvard. I won the scripture memory contest every week at youth group, thus solidifying my reputation as the “holier-than-thou-goody-two-shoes-know-it-all.” Nobody knew that I was crying out in my journals on youth retreats for God to please kill me, or that I slipped away to the bathroom between conference sessions to use the knife that was ever in my pocket.

I was very good at playing the role — last year I got the opportunity to meet with one of my old youth pastors for the first time since high school and when she heard me talk about those years, she looked at me with a pained expression and apologized. People assumed that I was stressed out over schoolwork, not suicidal. Looking back, I can see that I never felt safe with them – never felt like I had seen or heard anything that made me believe God was big enough to handle what I was feeling. This was the same group of leaders who were shocked and dismayed at my willingness to say a curse word as part of a literature reading and who dealt with my belief in evolution by telling me, simply, that I was wrong and needed to read the Bible.

I went to a boarding school briefly when I was 16 and never got plugged into a church there. When I returned home after a [miserable] semester [where I very nearly killed myself], I never went back to youth group. No, that’s not true – I went once, but the span of six months made the feeling of division between me and the rest of my classmates too great for a girl who was suffering a very severe depression and debilitating social anxiety. I went to church every Sunday morning, sang in the choir, prayed the prayers – and kept hoping God would show up.

When I went off to college, I stopped going to church altogether. By the end of my first semester freshman year, I ceased to call myself a Christian. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in who God was and what He was doing around the world – I just didn’t think it had any relevance to my life. Where in the Bible did it teach me how to deal with crushing depression that kept me holed up in a dark dorm room for days? Where in the Bible was the parable about self-injury? (Other than the one where Jesus casts demons into pigs, which was wildly irrelevant to an 18-year-old in a city with no pigs.) Where could I find the teachings about genocide and Darfur? Why wasn’t my church involved in boycotting the School of the Americas?

My unwillingness to call myself a Christian became even more pronounced by my sophomore year, when I was aware that I was not living a life at all within God’s will. It amazes me that even then, in some of the darkest days, I knew that I could not shame the name of Christianity — Jesus might not be for me, but He was the Saviour of the world and I wasn’t going to give Him a bad reputation. (I look back on this now as evidence that God was always there – for “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” – 1 Corinth 12:3).  He could do His thing for other people, but I would continue to drink, starve, run, and flirt.

So you may find it interesting that this was the same year I started to attend Catholic Mass.  I read the Bible.  Both were, in fact, intellectual pursuits.  I was a history and music major at the time and anybody who knows anything about either of those knows that the Catholic Church has played major roles in both arenas.  I also had a terrible fear that my roommate, a devout Catholic, was going to be brutally raped in the winter during her four block walk in the dark to the local Catholic Church.  I agreed to go with her one Sunday evening, as a bodyguard of sorts.

I wish I had words to describe how terrifying my sophomore year of college was – how I couldn’t sleep, didn’t eat, ran a million miles a minute trying to keep up with some goal that I couldn’t articulate, all the while sure that it going to fall apart before I could attain it, that I would kill myself before I ever had a chance to know what I was doing.  The first time I stepped in to the Oratory near our campus, all of that fell away.  It was the first time in months, and perhaps years, that I felt peace.  Everything stopped.  I was confused, an ex-Methodist in a Catholic service, trying to figure out where my hands go, what the order is, when to sit and when to stand – and yet, I was at peace.

The Oratory remains, to this day, a sacred space to me.  I still visit often, especially during Holy Week and Advent.  It is one of the most beautiful, emotional places to me and I place that I can go again and again and know that God is there.  It is the place that God began His slow and loving pursuit of me, began to show me what a fullness of life could be with Him, and began opening my eyes to who He really is.

——–

Tomorrow:  God as hunter and pursuer.  (This was getting long and the next part is too good to gloss over.)