Today’s post is by Karen Perry of mendedmusings.com. Karen writes about “recovery, family, God and the desire that most of us have to be authentic in all aspects of our lives.” She describes herself as a mom, Jesus follower and in recovery from all that numbs.
It’s pretty much a cliché: alcoholic finds Jesus. I know that’s what some people were thinking when I became a Christian. But in reality, my relationship with God has been a long journey and didn’t happen because of one choice.
As a child, I believed in God the same way I believed in Santa Claus; I wanted him to exist despite the lack of facts and implausible explanations. My parents, who were divorced, awkwardly answered my questions or avoided them altogether. I got the sense that it was ok to believe in God but that you didn’t really want him looking too closely. Both my parents struggled with addiction and I understand now how that tainted their view. Shame can make it really hard to believe in a loving, forgiving God.
While my parents have both been clean and sober for many years now, I was raised in a world of addiction and I experienced firsthand what can happen to a child when her adults are too impaired to notice what others are doing. I suffered abuse, mistreatment and bullying under their noses. Like many victims of childhood abuse, I created coping mechanisms that did as much, if not more, damage than the initial abuse. I spent my teens and 20’s in survival mode in a cycle of re-victimization. I sought out the very things that would harm me as a way to feel in control and numb my emotions. I attempted suicide, smoked pot, took hallucinogens, sought the approval of men through sex, and suffered from night terrors, anxiety and depression. At the same time, I had friends, went to college and held down jobs, which allowed me to mostly fly under the radar and to appear “normal.”
God wasn’t someone I thought about very often until my dad and stepmom became Christians. It affected me in a profound way. I found myself jealous of my little brothers because they were living the childhood that I was supposed to have had. They had responsible parents who cared about them, body, mind and soul. I deeply resented God for this. Why did he choose them over me? Couldn’t he see that I was the one who needed him? I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that I was too damaged, unworthy and broken to be deserving of God’s interest. Ever the victim, I was blind to the healing that was taking place in my family, like the fact that my father, who had been in the grips of addiction for years, was released from the obsession.
I didn’t need God anyway, I thought. I had been taking care of myself my entire life. I knew how to keep up appearances so that no one would see how messed up I felt on the inside. I got married, had a good career, a house and dogs. My life looked pretty good, and in many ways it was, but I dealt with nearly constant anxiety and suffered frequent bouts of depression. Drinking became an increasingly bigger part of my life as my anxiety attacks worsened. Drinking on the weekends allowed me to feel likable, smart and in control of my life after feeling like a failure at work all week.
A turning point came several years ago when my father-in-law gave me a Wayne Dyer book called The Power of Intention. For the first time, I started to explore the concept of a loving God without feeling like I had to be a Christian. I started praying regularly and began to see God as someone who was on my side, who loved me and wanted me to be happy. Letting God into my life helped me to get out of the survival and victim mode that had kept me going for so long. I didn’t have to do it by myself anymore.
Still, I was resistant to anything related to Christianity. But the cool thing about God is that he meets you where you are. God didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t a Christian when he healed me of my night terrors 6 years ago after I became pregnant with my first child. Or 3 years later, when I huddled on my bathroom floor and heard his voice say, “You can never drink again.” God, as I understood him, worked in my life to bring my shame, pain and fear out of the darkness and into his healing light.
I stopped drinking 2 ½ years ago and as I looked around with my new sober eyes, I noticed that the people I most wanted to emulate happened to be Christians. Despite my misgivings about Christianity and Christians in particular, I figured it was worth looking at this Jesus guy a little closer. I remember thinking that Bono loves Jesus and I love Bono so that’s got to mean something. Six months after I got sober, I became a Christian.
What I understand now that I didn’t when I first started exploring my spirituality is that it’s not all about me. Yes, I’ve been blessed in amazing ways but I’m not blessed because God granted my wishes. What happened to me – not just the good stuff but the abuse, my alcoholism, everything – is a gift that I can use to help others. Having a relationship with God isn’t about what he can do for us individually, but how he works through us to take care of each other. My life has become about far more than just coping and surviving and I couldn’t have gotten to this point without faith in God.
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Like everything you write, this is beautiful and moving. I know how hard it was for you to come down this path and I felt how you struggled to tell me that you had become a Christian – and how it rocked my world on so many levels. But it has been such a growing experience for me to read and talk with you about your life’s transformation, it made me see things in a different way – and it showed me that not all Christians are ‘those Christians’. I love that you respect and accept other’s point of view without secretly wanting to convert them or judging them less than worthy silently. You are about your own relationship with God not about having other’s validate your beliefs by having the same ones. That is rare in society (in my opinion). All of this is like discovering a new person that has been at your side for many years and realizing that human potential does not have a limit – we keep growing and evolving. Keep moving forward ~
Thank you, my friend. This means more to me than you know. I remember how it felt to be judged for not having the “right” beliefs and I’ve never wanted anyone else to feel the same way. Your acceptance of me – all of me – is a rare gift.
I’ve been tossing around writing a post about it – b/c it really highlighted how selfish I am about some stuff…
Hmmm. You and selfish don’t go hand in hand for me but I’d be interested in seeing what you come up with!
As always, Karen, your writing is amazing… articulate, heart-felt, and relatable to all. What most resonated with me is “God meets you where you are at.” I have been a (mostly) practicing Catholic all of my life, 16 years to Catholic school (why stop at high school?), all sacraments, and raising my family to be the same way. But it was not until I began my journey of recovery that my real relationship with God began, and has been evolving ever since. While I was a Catholic my whole life, now I feel like I am a Christian, in every sense of the word.
Thanks, as always, for illuminating my day!
I know what you mean about the journey of recovery and God. I read a quote by author Henri Nouwen today that blew me away: “When I think about what it means to live and act in the name of Jesus, I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness, through which the love of God can manifest itself.” Thanks for your thoughts Josie!
Man, this is good stuff. So beautifully written. And I love what you said about God meeting you where you are. I honestly believe that, and I think it’s what keeps me believing. I also identified with all the people you wanted to emulate were Christians. There is a peace and light that surrounds those people, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that those people also have a strong faith.
I love hearing “happy” stories like this…healing stories.
You’re right about that peace and light that some people radiate. It speaks stronger than dogma and doctrine. Thank you for the kind words!
This is so touching and poignant. My heart lit up at many of your remarkable phrases here, like: “I didn’t need God anyway, I thought. I had been taking care of myself my entire life.” and “But the cool thing about God is that he meets you where you are.”
Ooohhhhh…both of these so, so resonate with me. The first sentence is how I felt for much of my life having experienced/survived much of what you did. The second sentence is absolutely true in my experience, too. God knows us so well and accepts our journey back to him with utter love and understanding. It is we who separate ourselves from God/Source; he never leaves us no matter how challenged our approach and condition. He always holds the signal for us to come home to him. I love knowing that!
THANK YOUUUUU so much for this delicious post. Your writing and your clarity are absolutely breath-taking, my friend. Much love to you, sis. ~BigLizzy
I love how you say he holds a signal for us. When I look back on my life, I can see those points of light that I couldn’t see when I was living them. Thank you BigLizzy!